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Journal of Arid Land  2023, Vol. 15 Issue (6): 637-648    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-023-0016-5
Research article     
Seasonal variations in glacier velocity in the High Mountain Asia region during 2015-2020
ZHANG Zhen1,*(), XU Yangyang1, LIU Shiyin2, DING Jing1, ZHAO Jinbiao1
1School of Geomatics, Anhui University of Science and Technology, Huainan 232001, China
2Institute of International Rivers and Eco-Security, Yunnan University, Kunming 650091, China
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Velocity is an important component of glacier dynamics and directly reflects the response of glaciers to climate change. As a result, an accurate determination of seasonal variation in glacier velocity is very important in understanding the annual variation in glacier dynamics. However, few studies of glacier velocity in the High Mountain Asia (HMA) region were done. Along these lines, in this work, based on Sentinel-1 glacier velocity data, the distribution of glacier velocity in the HMA region was plotted and their seasonal variations during 2015-2020 were systematically analysed. The average glacier velocity in the HMA region was 0.053 m/d, and was positively correlated with the glacier area and slope. Glaciers in the Karakoram Mountains had the fastest average flow velocity (0.060 m/d), where the glaciers exhibited the largest average area and average slope. Moreover, glaciers in the Gangdisê Mountains had the slowest velocity (0.022 m/d) and the smallest average glacier area. The glacier flows were the fastest in spring (0.058 m/d), followed by summer (0.050 m/d), autumn (0.041 m/d), and winter (0.040 m/d). In addition, the glacier flows were the maximum in May, being 1.4 times of the annual average velocity. In some areas, such as the Qilian, Altun, Tibetan Interior, Eastern Kunlun, and Western Kunlun mountains, the peak glacier velocities appeared in June and July. The glacier velocity in the HMA region decreased in midsummer and reached the minimum in December when it was 75% of the annual average. These results highlight the role of meltwater in the seasonal variation in glacier flows in late spring and early summer. The seasonal velocity variation of lake-terminating glaciers was similar to that of land-terminating ones, but the former flowed faster. The velocity difference close to the mass balance line between the lake- and land-terminating glaciers was obviously greater in spring than in other seasons. In summer, the difference between the lake- and land-terminating glaciers at a normalized distance of 0.05-0.40 from the terminus was significantly greater than those of other seasons. The velocity difference between the lake- and land-terminating glaciers is closely related to the variable of ice thickness, and also to the frictional force of the terminal base reduced by proglacial lakes. Thus, it can be concluded that in addition to the variation of the glacier thickness and viscosity, the variation of glacier water input also plays a key role in the seasonal variation of glacier velocity.

Key wordsglacier velocity      spatial-temporal variations      High Mountain Asia      synthetic aperture radar offset-tracking      climate change     
Received: 17 January 2023      Published: 30 June 2023
Corresponding Authors: * ZHANG Zhen (E-mail:
Cite this article:

ZHANG Zhen, XU Yangyang, LIU Shiyin, DING Jing, ZHAO Jinbiao. Seasonal variations in glacier velocity in the High Mountain Asia region during 2015-2020. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(6): 637-648.

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Fig. 1 Location of the HMA (High Mountain Asia) region and distribution of glaciers. Mountain boundary data are referenced from the following website Mts, mountains; n, number of samples.
Fig. 2 Glacier velocities in different mountains for all glaciers (a) and excluding surging glaciers (b)
Mountains Average area (km2) Average velocity (m/d) Uncertainty
Average slope (°)
Altun Mts 0.63 0.60 0.055 0.054 0.009 27.235 27.269
Central Himalaya Mts 1.18 1.18 0.051 0.051 0.010 26.353 26.352
Central Tianshan Mts 1.25 0.98 0.048 0.045 0.015 26.615 26.676
Junggar Alatau Mts 0.54 0.54 0.037 0.037 0.017 23.698 23.698
Eastern Himalaya Mts 1.07 1.06 0.049 0.049 0.012 23.569 23.567
Eastern Hindu Kush Mts 0.67 0.63 0.062 0.060 0.009 24.739 24.752
Eastern Kunlun Mts 0.97 0.81 0.046 0.044 0.007 24.162 24.201
Eastern Pamir Mts 1.34 0.90 0.049 0.041 0.011 26.929 26.961
Eastern Tibetan Mts 0.60 0.53 0.041 0.039 0.012 23.628 23.650
Eastern Tianshan Mts 0.55 0.55 0.035 0.035 0.014 27.606 27.605
Gangdisê Mts 0.33 0.33 0.022 0.022 0.005 23.986 23.990
Hengduan Mts 0.62 0.62 0.043 0.043 0.013 23.059 23.059
Karakoram Mts 1.85 1.04 0.077 0.060 0.012 31.277 31.398
Northern&Western Tianshan Mts 0.58 0.54 0.042 0.041 0.016 23.117 23.151
Nyainqêntanglha Mts 0.95 0.95 0.058 0.058 0.013 24.913 24.912
Pamir-Alay Mts 0.59 0.58 0.053 0.052 0.012 25.219 25.225
Qilian Mts 0.60 0.57 0.032 0.031 0.008 26.423 26.45
Tanggula Mts 1.16 0.97 0.035 0.034 0.013 21.361 21.446
Tibetan Interior Mts 1.09 0.99 0.049 0.045 0.006 22.568 22.623
Western Himalaya Mts 0.81 0.79 0.057 0.056 0.011 24.307 24.309
Western Kunlun Mts 1.49 1.13 0.042 0.039 0.007 26.450 26.548
Western Pamir Mts 0.93 0.62 0.057 0.047 0.011 26.649 26.756
HMA 1.02 0.83 0.053 0.049 0.013 25.926 25.956
Table 1 Average glacier area, slope, and velocity of the mountains
Fig. 3 Monthly velocity enhancement factors for all glaciers (a) and excluding surging glaciers (b). The horizontal dashed line in green is a horizontal line at y=1.0, representing the monthly average glacial velocity is equal to the annual average glacial velocity.
Fig. 4 Seasonal velocities of all glaciers (a) and excluding surging glaciers (b). The upper and lower black bars represent a range defined as all values 1.5 times the interquartile range larger (smaller) than the third (first) quartile.
Fig. 5 Regional interannual variations in the velocities of all glaciers (a) and excluding surging glaciers (b)
Fig. 6 Regional seasonal velocities of all glaciers (a) and excluding surging glaciers (b)
Fig. 7 Glacier velocity profiles along centreline for different types of glaciers in different seasons. The median and interquartile ranges are shown in bins of size 0.01. Each glacier's centreline length is used to normalize the distance from its terminus. (a), spring; (b), summer; (c), autumn; (d), winter.
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