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Journal of Arid Land  2021, Vol. 13 Issue (2): 175-188    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-021-0095-z
Research article     
Region-wide glacier area and mass budgets for the Shaksgam River Basin, Karakoram Mountains, during 2000-2016
WANG Panpan1, LI Zhongqin1,2,*(), XU Chunhai2, WANG Puyu2
1College of Geography and Environmental Science, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, China
2State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences/Tianshan Glaciological Station, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou 730000, China
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The Karakoram Mountains are well known for their widespread surge-type glaciers and slight glacier mass gains. On the one hand, glaciers are one of the sensitive indicators of climate change, their area and thickness will adjust with climate change. On the other hand, glaciers provide freshwater resources for agricultural irrigation and hydroelectric generation in the downstream areas of the Shaksgam River Basin (SRB) in western China. The shrinkage of glaciers caused by climate change can significantly affect the security and sustainable development of regional water resources. In this study, we analyzed the changes in glacier area from 2000 to 2016 in the SRB using Landsat TM (Thematic Mapper)/ETM+ (Enhanced Mapper Plus)/OLI (Operational Land Imager) images. It is shown that the SRB contained 472 glaciers, with an area of 1840.3 km 2, in 2016. The glacier area decreased by 0.14%/a since 2000, and the shrinkage of glacier in the southeast, east and south directions were the most, while the northeast, north directions were the least. Debris-covered area accounted for 8.0% of the total glacier area. We estimated elevation and mass changes using the 1 arc-second SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission) DEM (Digital Elevation Model) (2000) and the resolution of 8 m HMA (High Mountain Asia) DEM (2016). An average thickness of 0.08 (±0.03) m/a, or a slight mass increase of 0.06 (±0.02) m w.e./a has been obtained since 2000. We found thinning was significantly lesser on the clean ice than the debris-covered ice. In addition, the elevation of glacier surface is spatially heterogeneous, showing that the accumulation of mass is dominant in high altitude regions, and the main mass loss is in low altitude regions, excluding the surge-type glacier. For surge-type glaciers, the mass may transfer from the reservoir to the receiving area rapidly when surges, then resulting in an advance of glacier terminus. The main surge mechanism is still unclear, it is worth noting that the surge did not increase the glacier mass in this study.

Key wordsglacier      mass balance      SRTM DEM      HMA DEM      Karakoram Mountains     
Received: 13 May 2020      Published: 10 March 2021
Corresponding Authors: LI Zhongqin     E-mail:
About author: LI Zhongqin (E-mail:
Cite this article:

WANG Panpan, LI Zhongqin, XU Chunhai, WANG Puyu. Region-wide glacier area and mass budgets for the Shaksgam River Basin, Karakoram Mountains, during 2000-2016. Journal of Arid Land, 2021, 13(2): 175-188.

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Fig. 1 Location of the study area and distribution of glaciers in 2016. The background map is hillshade of SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission) DEM (Digital Elevation Model). The debris-covered ice was from Nico et al. (2018).
Satellite sensor Period of data Path/Row Cloud (%) Spatial resolution (m)
Landsat TM 29 Aug 1998 148/35 4 30
Landsat TM 4 Sep 2000 148/35 8 30
Landsat ETM+ 16 Jul 1999 148/35 13 15/30
Landsat ETM+ 16 Jun 2000 148/35 2 15/30
Landsat ETM+ 21 Jul 2001 148/35 6 15/30
Landsat ETM+ 22 Jun 2002 148/35 3 15/30
Landsat OLI 4 Jul 2015 148/35 3 15/30
Landsat OLI 24 Sep 2016 148/35 6 15/30
Table 1 Remote sensing images used in this study
Fig. 2 Resolution comparison of the two DEMs. (a), the 1 arc-second SRTM DEM from 2000; (b), the 8 m HMA (High Mountain Asia) DEM from 2015. The white spots in (b) are voids. The black line cycled areas were glaciers and both pictures were from Paul et al. (2019).
Fig. 3 (a) Scatter plot of aspect vs slope for the standardized elevation differences for non-glacier areas. (b) Relationship between elevation difference and maximum curvature in the non-glacier areas of SRB (Shaksgam River Basin).
Before co-registration After co-registration N Eσ (m) E (m)
Em (m) SDno glac (m) Em (m) SDno glac
-19.83 14.91 -0.38 11.80 6960 0.14 0.41
Table 2 Statistical results of the vertical error before and after the adjustment of the HMA (High Mountain Asia) and SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission) DEMs (Digital Elevation Models) in non-glacier areas
Fig. 4 Glacier distribution and change in the SRB. (a), area and number of 2016 glaciers in different size classes; (b), distribution of glacier area in different slope directions in 2000 and 2016; (c), the change of glacier area and area reduction rate under different size classes from 2000 to 2016; (d), the distribution of glacier area with elevation in 2016.
Fig. 5 Changes in glacier surface elevation in the SRB from 2000 to 2016. The glacier boundaries are based on the union of the 2000 and 2016 glacier area. These surge-type glacier and post-surge or quiescent during 1999-2011 were reported by Gardelle et al. (2012a, 2013).
Region Study period Elevation change (m/a) Mass balance (m w.e./a) Reference
Karakoram Mountains 2003-2008 -0.07 (±0.04) -0.06 (±0.04) K??b et al. (2012)
Karakoram Mountains 2003-2009 -0.12 (±0.15) - Gardner et al. (2013)
Central Karakoram 2000-2010 0.12 (±0.19) 0.10 (±0.16) Gardelle et al. (2013)
Central Karakoram 2000-2012 -0.09 (±0.12) -0.08 (±0.10) Rankl and Braun (2016)
Central Karakoram 1999-2008 - 0.11 (±0.22) Gardelle et al. (2012a)
SRB 2000-2016 0.08 (±0.03) 0.06 (±0.02) This study
Table 3 Comparison of mass balance budgets in this study and others
Fig. 6 Distribution of glacier area in 2016 (a) and glacier surface elevation changes during 2000-2016 (b) at 100-m intervals by elevation in the SRB for debris-covered ice and clean ice
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