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Journal of Arid Land  2021, Vol. 13 Issue (3): 224-238    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-021-0094-0
Research article     
Glacier mass balance in High Mountain Asia inferred from a GRACE release-6 gravity solution for the period 2002-2016
XIANG Longwei1,2, WANG Hansheng2,3,*(), JIANG Liming2,3, SHEN Qiang2,3, Holger STEFFEN4, LI Zhen2,3
1School of Geosciences, Yangtze University, Wuhan 430100, China
2State Key Laboratory of Geodesy and Earth's Dynamics, Innovation Academy for Precision Measurement Science and Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan 430077, China
3University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
4Geodetic Infrastructure, Lantmäteriet, Gävle 80182, Sweden
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We provide estimates of glacier mass changes in the High Mountain Asia (HMA) area from April 2002 to August 2016 by employing a new version of gravity solutions of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) twin-satellite mission. We found a total mass loss trend of the HMA glaciers at a rate of -22.17 (±1.96) Gt/a. The largest mass loss rates of -7.02 (±0.94) and -6.73 (±0.78) Gt/a are found for the glaciers in Nyainqentanglha Mountains and Eastern Himalayas, respectively. Although most glaciers in the HMA area show a mass loss, we find a small glacier mass gain of 1.19 (±0.55) and 0.77 (±0.37) Gt/a in Karakoram Mountains and West Kunlun Mountains, respectively. There is also a nearly zero mass balance in Pamirs. Our estimates of glacier mass change trends confirm previous results from the analysis of altimetry data of the ICESat (Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation) and ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) DEM (Digital Elevation Model) satellites in most of the selected glacier areas. However, they largely differ to previous GRACE-based studies which we attribute to our different post-processing techniques of the newer GRACE data. In addition, we explicitly show regional mass change features for both the interannual glacier mass changes and the 14-a averaged seasonal glacier mass changes. These changes can be explained in parts by total net precipitation (net snowfall and net rainfall) and net snowfall, but mostly by total net radiation energy when compared to data from the ERA5-Land meteorological reanalysis. Moreover, nearly all the non-trend interannual mass changes and most seasonal mass changes can be explained by the total net radiation energy data. The mass loss trends could be partly related to a heat effect due to increased net rainfall in Tianshan Mountains, Qilian Mountains, Nyainqentanglha Mountains and Eastern Himalayas. Our new results for the glacier mass change in this study could help improve the understanding of glacier variation in the HMA area and contribute to the study of global change. They could also serve the utilization of water resources there and in neighboring areas.

Key wordsglaciers      mass balance      GRACE      precipitation      snowfall      radiation energy      High Mountain Asia     
Received: 17 April 2020      Published: 10 March 2021
Corresponding Authors: WANG Hansheng     E-mail:
About author: * WANG Hansheng (E-mail:
Cite this article:

XIANG Longwei, WANG Hansheng, JIANG Liming, SHEN Qiang, Holger STEFFEN, LI Zhen. Glacier mass balance in High Mountain Asia inferred from a GRACE release-6 gravity solution for the period 2002-2016. Journal of Arid Land, 2021, 13(3): 224-238.

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Fig. 1 Trend rates of monthly gravity changes (in equivalent water height, EWH) in the High Mountain Asia (HMA) and adjacent areas from April 2002 to August 2016, derived from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) release-6 solution from the Institute of Geodesy of Technische Universit?t Graz, Austria (ITSG). Mascon 1 covers the glaciers in Nyainqentanglha Mountains (Nyainqentanglha), mascons 2 to 3 in Eastern Himalayas, mascons 4 to 5 in Western Himalayas, mascon 6 in Karakoram Mountains (Karakoram), mascon 7 in Hindu Kush Mountains (Hindu Kush), mascon 8 in Pamirs, mascons 9 to 12 in Tianshan Mountains (Tianshan), mascon 13 in West Kunlun Mountains (West Kunlun), and mascon 14 in Qilian Mountains (Qilian), respectively.
Fig. 2 Trend rates of the monthly mass changes (in EWH) at the mascons in the HMA area and adjacent regions during the observation time for the period April 2002 to August 2016, inverted from the GRACE release-6 ITSG solution. In the inversion process, the Stokes coefficients are destriped with the S&W P2M8 filter and smoothed by a Gaussian filter with averaging radius of 220 km. Monthly mass changes at the 14 glacier mascons are shown in Figure 3.
Fig. 3 GRACE-derived monthly mass changes at the 14 glacier mascons
Mascon Mascon area Trend (Gt/a) Area (km2) Trend (m/a w. e.)
1 Nyainqentanglha Mountains -7.02±0.94 6498.14 -1.08±0.14
2 Eastern Himalayas -2.72±0.56 1909.14 -1.42±0.29
3 -4.01±0.55 4527.44 -0.89±0.12
4 Western Himalayas -1.10±0.44 4128.77 -0.27±0.11
5 -2.36±0.50 5413.30 -0.44±0.09
6 Karakoram Mountains 1.19±0.55 20638.73 0.06±0.03
7 Hindu Kush Mountains -0.97±0.47 4299.61 -0.23±0.11
8 Pamirs -0.08±0.83 10580.46 -0.01±0.08
9 Tianshan Mountains -1.06±0.34 7106.08 -0.15±0.05
10 -0.89±0.43 952.15 -0.93±0.46
11 -2.74±0.38 2166.41 -1.26±0.17
12 -0.41±0.13 415.29 -0.99±0.32
13 Western Kunlun Mountains 0.77±0.37 7159.88 0.11±0.05
14 Qilian Mountains -0.76±0.33 1176.82 -0.65±0.28
Total Total HMA glaciers -22.17±1.96 76972.22 -0.29±0.03
2+3 Eastern Himalayas -6.73±0.78 6436.58 -1.05±0.12
4+5 Western Himalayas -3.46±0.66 9542.07 -0.36±0.07
9+10+11+12 Tianshan Mountains -5.10±0.68 10639.93 -0.48±0.06
Table 1 Trend rates of glacier mass changes at the 14 glacier mascons and selected mascon combinations
Mascon Trend rates of monthly glacier mass change (Gt/a)
2003-2008 2003-2009 2003-2009 2000-2016 2003-2008 2003-2009 2002-2016
1 -8.0±1.7 -4.5±3.3 -8.3±4.33 -4.0±1.5 -9.12±2.70 -8.67±2.29 -7.02±0.94
2 -3.1±0.6 -5.5±1.6 -4.4±2.1 -1.0±0.5 -0.82±1.66 -6.18±2.01 -2.72±0.56
3 -3.2±0.9 -1.6±1.0 -4.12±1.72 -4.01±0.55
4 -3.2±0.7 -3.1±1.8 -0.9±0.6 -1.6±0.4 -3.14±1.28 -2.38±1.09 -1.10±0.44
5 -4.7±1.1 -4.4±1.6 - -2.9±0.7 -3.01±1.47 -3.19±1.24 -2.36±0.50
6 -2.1±1.3 -2.6±4.4 - -0.5±1.2 1.75±1.66 -1.00±1.86 1.19±0.55
7 -2.7±0.6 - -0.6±0.4 -4.36±1.43 -0.97±0.47
8 -3.1±0.9 -2.1±4.1 - -0.7±0.5 -2.50±2.05 -0.72±1.89 -0.08±0.83
13 0.6±0.9 1.5±1.7 0.2±1.6 1.4±0.8 1.21±1.09 0.28±0.95 0.77±0.37
14 - -0.6±0.8 - - - -0.68±0.83 -
Source K??b et al. (2015) Gardner et al. (2013) Neckel et al. (2014) Brun et al. (2017) This study
Table 2 Comparisons of trend rates of monthly glacier mass changes between this study and previous studies at the ten selected glacier mascons during the same observation time span
Mascon Trend rates of monthly glacier mass change (Gt/a)
2003-2009 2003-2010 2003-2012 2000-2016 2003-2009 2003-2010 2003-2012 2002-2016
1+2+3+4+5 -17.5±4.4 -5.0±6.0 -20.5±3.0 -11.1±2.0 -20.42±3.46 -21.88±2.81 -19.00±2.64 -17.21±1.39
6+7+8 -3.2±6.2 -1.0±5.0 -6.1±2.5 -0.4±1.6 -1.44±2.81 1.81±2.13 1.97±1.79 0.91±1.16
13 - -
9+10+11+12 -7.5±3.4 -5.0±6.0 -8.4±2.4 -3.0±2.2 -7.71±1.75 -5.41±1.33 -4.38±1.18 -5.10±0.68
Total -28.2±8.3 -11.0±9.8 -35.0±4.6 -14.5±3.4 -29.57±4.79 -25.48±3.77 -21.41±3.40 -21.40±1.93
Source Gardner et al. (2013) Jacob et al. (2012) Yi and Sun (2014) Brun et al. (2017) This study
Table 3 Comparisons of trend rates of monthly glacier mass changes between this study and previous studies for selected glacier mascon combinations
Fig. 4 Annual averaged glacier mass changes showing interannual glacier mass changes in the nine selected glacier areas compared with the annual changes in total precipitation and snowfall, and three-summer-month averaged surface air temperatures, respectively. The trend rates of air temperature are also shown for the nine glacier areas.
Fig. 5 Annual averaged glacier mass changes in the nine glacier areas are compared with the annual changes in accumulative total net precipitation, accumulative net snowfall and accumulative total net radiation energy
Fig. 6 14-a averaged glacier mass changes for the 12 individual months of one year showing an average seasonal mass change in the nine glacier areas, in comparison to corresponding accumulative total net precipitations, accumulative net snowfalls and accumulative total net radiation energies, respectively.
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