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Journal of Arid Land  2022, Vol. 14 Issue (7): 719-738    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-022-0068-y
Research article     
Effect of topography on the changes of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 in the Chinese Tianshan Mountains
LI Hongliang1,2, WANG Puyu1,2,3,*(), LI Zhongqin1,3,4, JIN Shuang1, XU Chunhai1, MU Jianxin1, HE Jie1,2, YU Fengchen3
1State Key Laboratory of Cryosphere Science, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou 730000, China
2University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
3College of Sciences, Shihezi University, Shihezi 832000, China
4College of Geography and Environmental Science, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, China
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Topography plays an important role in determining the glacier changes. However, topography has often been oversimplified in the studies of the glacier changes. No systematic studies have been conducted to evaluate the relationship between the glacier changes and topographic features. The present study provided a detailed insight into the changes in the two branches (east branch and west branch) of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 in the Chinese Tianshan Mountains since 1993 and systematically discussed the effect of topography on the glacier parameters. This study analyzed comprehensive recently observed data (from 1992/1993 to 2018/2019), including mass balance, ice thickness, surface elevation, ice velocity, terminus, and area, and then determined the differences in the changes of the two branches and explored the effect of topography on the glacier changes. We also applied a topographic solar radiation model to analyze the influence of topography on the incoming shortwave radiation (SWin) across the entire glacier, focusing on the difference in the SWin between the two branches. The glacier mass balance of the east branch was more negative than that of the west branch from 1992/1993 to 2018/2019, and this was mainly attributed to the lower average altitude of the east branch. Compared with the west branch, the decrease rate of the ice velocity was lower in the east branch owing to its relatively increased slope. The narrow shape of the west branch and its southeast aspect in the earlier period resulted in a larger glacier terminus retreat of the west branch. The spatial variability of the SWin across the glacier surface became much larger as altitude increased. The SWin received by the east branch was slightly larger than that received by the west branch, and the northern aspect could receive more SWin, leading to glacier melting. In the future, the difference of the glacier changes between the two branches will continue to exist due to their topographic differences. This work is fundamental to understanding how topographic features affect the glacier changes, and provides information for building different types of relationship between the glacier area and ice volume to promote further studies on the basin-scale glacier classification.

Key wordsglacier changes      topography      solar radiation      glacier terminus retreat      climate warming      Urumqi Glacier No. 1      Chinese Tianshan Mountains     
Received: 23 December 2021      Published: 31 July 2022
Corresponding Authors: WANG Puyu     E-mail:
Cite this article:

LI Hongliang, WANG Puyu, LI Zhongqin, JIN Shuang, XU Chunhai, MU Jianxin, HE Jie, YU Fengchen. Effect of topography on the changes of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 in the Chinese Tianshan Mountains. Journal of Arid Land, 2022, 14(7): 719-738.

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Fig. 1 Location of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 (a), overview of the two branches of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 (b), and layout of the surface topographic characteristics of the west branch (c) and east branch (d)
Fig. 2 Changes in the annual average temperature and annual precipitation at the Daxigou Meteorological Station from 1959 to 2019
Item Method/Source Measurement frequency Unit Data period
Mass balance Stake/snow pit Once a month in ablation season m w.e. 1993-2019
Ice thickness Ground-penetrating radar Once every 5-6 a m 2001, 2006, and 2012
DEM Stereo-photography, theodolite, total station, and RTK GPS Once every few years - 1994-2012
Terrestrial laser scanning Every year m 2015-2017
Unmanned aerial vehicle End of August 2018 2018
Ice velocity Theodolite Every year m/a 1994-2001
Total station 2002-2006
RTK-GPS 2007-2019
Terminus Tape and RTK-GPS Beginning and end of the ablation season m/a 1980-2020
Area Stereo-photography, theodolite, total station, and RTK GPS Once every few years km2 1994-2012
Terrestrial laser scanning Every year 2015-2017
Unmanned aerial vehicle End of August 2018 2018
SWin CNR4 radiation sensors Every hour W/m2 30 April 2018-30 April 2019
Table 1 Data of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 used in this study
Fig. 3 Changes in the annual mass balance (a) and maximum ice velocity (b) for the east and west branches of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 from 1992/1993 to 2018/2019, as well as the glacier terminus change (c) from 1979/1980 to 2019/2020
Fig. 4 Ice thickness changes of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 from 1994 to 2018
Fig. 5 Photographs of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 during different periods showing the glacier shrinkage over the past 60 a. (a), 1962; (b), 1993; (c), 2021.
Period East branch West branch Urumqi Glacier No. 1
Area (km2) Change rate (km2/a) Area (km2) Change rate (km2/a) Area (km2) Change rate (km2/a)
1994 1.115 0.627 1.742
2000 1.111 -0.001 0.622 -0.001 1.733 -0.001
2001 1.101 -0.010 0.607 -0.015 1.708 -0.025
2006 1.086 -0.003 0.591 -0.003 1.677 -0.006
2009 1.069 -0.006 0.578 -0.004 1.647 -0.010
2012 1.020 -0.016 0.570 -0.003 1.590 -0.019
2015 0.994 -0.009 0.561 -0.003 1.555 -0.012
2016 0.991 -0.003 0.559 -0.002 1.550 -0.005
2017 0.984 -0.007 0.558 -0.001 1.542 -0.008
2018 0.970 -0.014 0.551 -0.007 1.521 -0.021
1994-2018 -0.006 -0.003 -0.009
Table 2 Area changes of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 from 1994 to 2018
Fig. 6 Altitude (a and d), slope (b and e), and aspect (c and f) in the east and west branches of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 in 1994 and 2018. (a)-(c), 1994; (d)-(f), 2018.
Fig. 7 Surface elevation and subglacial topography for the main lines of the east branch (a) and west branch (b) of Urumqi Glacier No. 1
Fig. 8 Spatial distribution of the mean changes in the incoming shortwave radiation (SWin) in the east and west branches of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 from 30 April 2018 to 30 April 2019
Fig. 9 Mean changes in the SWin of the east branch (a) and west branch (b) of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 along with the altitude from 30 April 2018 to 30 April 2019
Fig. 10 Accumulation area ratio (a), glacier terminus retreat rate (b), and ice velocity of the glacier terminus (c) in the east and west branches of Urumqi Glacier No. 1 from 1993/1994 to 2017/2018
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