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Journal of Arid Land  2022, Vol. 14 Issue (4): 455-472    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-022-0012-1
Research article     
Glacier mass balance and its impacts on streamflow in a typical inland river basin in the Tianshan Mountains, northwestern China
PENG Jiajia1,2, LI Zhongqin1,3,4,*(), XU Liping1,2,*(), MA Yuqing1,2, LI Hongliang3, ZHAO Weibo3, FAN Shuang4
1College of Sciences, Shihezi University, Shihezi 832003, China
2Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Key Laboratory of Oasis Town and Mountain-basin System Ecology, Shihezi 832003, China
3State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences/Tianshan Glaciological Station, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou 730000, China
4College of Geography and Environmental Science, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, China
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Glaciers are known as natural ''solid reservoirs'', and they play a dual role between the composition of water resources and the river runoff regulation in arid and semi-arid areas of China. In this study, we used in situ observation data from Urumqi Glacier No. 1, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, in combination with meteorological data from stations and a digital elevation model, to develop a distributed degree-day model for glaciers in the Urumqi River Basin to simulate glacier mass balance processes and quantify their effect on streamflow during 1980-2020. The results indicate that the mass loss and the equilibrium line altitude (ELA) of glaciers in the last 41 years had an increasing trend, with the average mass balance and ELA being -0.85 (±0.32) m w.e./a (meter water-equivalent per year) and 4188 m a.s.l., respectively. The glacier mass loss has increased significantly during 1999-2020, mostly due to the increase in temperature and the extension of ablation season. During 1980-2011, the average annual glacier meltwater runoff in the Urumqi River Basin was 0.48×108 m3, accounting for 18.56% of the total streamflow. We found that the annual streamflow in different catchments in the Urumqi River Basin had a strong response to the changes in glacier mass balance, especially from July to August, and the glacier meltwater runoff increased significantly. In summary, it is quite possible that the results of this research can provide a reference for the study of glacier water resources in glacier-recharged basins in arid and semi-arid areas.

Key wordsglacier mass balance      glacier meltwater runoff      glacier modelling      Urumqi River Basin      Tianshan Mountains     
Received: 06 January 2022      Published: 30 April 2022
Corresponding Authors: LI Zhongqin, XU Liping     E-mail:;
Cite this article:

PENG Jiajia, LI Zhongqin, XU Liping, MA Yuqing, LI Hongliang, ZHAO Weibo, FAN Shuang. Glacier mass balance and its impacts on streamflow in a typical inland river basin in the Tianshan Mountains, northwestern China. Journal of Arid Land, 2022, 14(4): 455-472.

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Fig. 1 (a), distribution of glaciers, and their meteorological and hydrological stations in the Urumqi River Basin; (b), area-elevation distribution of the glaciers. (c), profile map of the Urumqi River Basin and the distribution of the outlet location of each catchment. AWS, automatic weather station; UG1, Urumqi Glacier No. 1; DEM, digital elevation model.
Fig. 2 Annual average temperature and average annual precipitation in the Urumqi River Basin
Station Latitude Longitude Elevation (m) Observed period
Meteorological station Daxigou 43°06′N 86°50′E 3539 1979-09-01-2020-08-31
AWS 43°07′N 86°48′E 3835 2018-08-01-2019-04-30
Hydrologicl station Yingxiongqiao 43°22′N 87°12′E 1920 1980-01-01-2011-12-31
Houxia 43°12′N 87°07′E 2148 2014-01-01-2016-12-31
Zongkong 43°07′N 86°52′E 3408 1983-01-01-2018-12-31
UG1 43°06′N 86°49′E 3706 1980-01-01-2018-12-31
Table 1 Meteorological and hydrological stations in this study
Model parameter Value used in model Range used for error estimation Error value
Air temperature lapse rate (TLR) (°C/m) Mean monthly TLR - -
Altitude precipitation gradient (APG) (mm/m) Mean monthly APG - -
DDF for ice (mm/(d•°C)) 7.3 5.6-8.9 0.281
DDF for snow (mm/(d•°C)) 2.9 2.7-3.1 0.009
Threshold temperature for snow/ice melting (Tt ) (°C) 0.0 Tt-1-Tt+1 0.027
Threshold temperature for snow (Ts) (°C) 0.0 - -
Threshold temperature for rain (Tr) (°C) 2.0 - -
Toal (m w.e./a) - - 0.317
Table 2 Selected values of parameters used in the glacier mass balance model and the range of parameters used to estimate the errors
Fig. 3 Observed and simulated daily average temperature (a) and monthly precipitation (b) at the automatic weather station during 2018-2019
Fig. 4 (a), observed and simulated annual mass balance of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 (UG1); (b), monthly mass balance of UG1.
Fig. 5 Model calibration of observed and simulated monthly mass balance. (a), May; (b), June; (c), July; (d), August.
Fig. 6 (a)-(d), annual mass balance of the Urumqi River Basin during 1980-2020; (e)-(h), summer mass balance of the Urumqi River Basin during 1980-2020; (i)-(l), winter mass balance of the Urumqi River Basin during 1980-2020.
Fig. 7 (a), monthly glacier mass balance in the Urumqi River Basin; (b), monthly mean air temperature and precipitation at the Daxigou weather station.
Fig. 8 Monthly changes in glacier mass balance in the Urumqi River Basin during 1980-2020. (a), January; (b), February; (c), March; (d), April; (e), May; (f), June; (g), July; (h), August; (i), September; (j), October; (k), November; (j), December.
Fig. 9 (a), glacier mass balance changes with elevations in the Urumqi River Basin; (b), simulated equilibrium line altitude (ELA) of glaciers in the Urumqi River Basin during 1980-2020.
Fig. 10 (a), variation in cumulative positive temperature; (b), variation in solid precipitation.
Fig. 11 (a), number of cumulative positive temperature days (CPTD) during 1980-2020; (b), mean daily temperatures (>0°C) for two periods (1980-1998 and 1999-2020).
Fig. 12 Mean monthly streamflow and glacier meltwater runoff in the Urumqi River Basin. (a), Yingxiongqiao; (b), Houxia; (c), Zhongkong; (d), Urumqi Glacier No. 1 (UG1).
Fig. 13 (a), annual streamflow, glacier meltwater runoff and its contribution in the Urumqi River Basin during 1980-2011; (b), regression relationship between percentage of glacier cover and percentage of glacier meltwater.
Catchment Glacier area (km3) Catchment area (km3) Streamflow (×104 m3) Glacier meltwater runoff (×104 m3)
Yingxiongqiao 33.29 1088.00 25,868.75 4800.51
Houxia 23.72 400.00 13,992.27 3241.39
Zongkong 5.58 28.66 1484.04 669.47
UG1 1.56 3.45 243.43 173.71
Table 3 Areas of glacier and catchment, average annual streamflow, and glacier meltwater runoff in the Urumqi River Basin
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