Which heterogeneous glacier melting patterns can be robustly observed from space? A multi-scale assessment in southeastern Tibetan Plateau

Linghong Ke, Chunqiao Song, Bin Yong, Yanbin Lei, Xiaoli Ding

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Region-wide investigation of glacier change in High Mountain Asia marked the strongest recession in southeastern Tibetan Plateau (SETP) in recent decades. However, evident differences of quantitative glacier mass balance (MB) estimations on fine scales exist in the prior reports. The large uncertainties in current geodetic observations over this region highlight the need for more independent validations and investigations on the spatial variability of glacier change. This study enriched glacier MB estimates over the SETP by using the newly released global Digital Elevation Model (DEM) - the TanDEM-X and analyzed the spatial pattern of glacier change on multi-spatial scales by comparing available satellite-based geodetic observations. Results reveal that the TanDEM-X - SRTM elevation differences, which show no obvious horizontal shifts and no significant elevation-dependent bias, provide reliable elevation change information over this challenging area. On the regional scale, the geodetic datasets (the ASTER elevation change rates data, TanDEM-X- SRTM differences, ICESat) achieved a highly consistent estimate of glacier MB at −4.11 ± 1.52 Gt a−1 (−0.60 ± 0.16 m w.e. a−1) during 2000 and 2010s. On the subregional scale, the two gridded geodetic datasets revealed a clear contrast between moderate thinning of spring-accumulation type glaciers in the south and significantly more negative glacier MB of summer-accumulation type glaciers in the north. Glacier-wide MB showed high heterogeneity, which was closely related to the combined effect of topographic variation and climate forcings. We observed similar glacier thinning rates between debris-covered land-terminating glaciers and clean-ice glaciers (−0.50 ± 0.32 m w.e. a−1) but remarkable more negative MB (−0.89 ± 0.36 m w.e. a−1) of debris-covered glaciers connected with glacial lakes, which may indicate different evolution process of debris-covered glaciers in the monsoon-influenced region. This study demonstrates that current satellite-based geodetic observations achieve overall consistent patterns of glacier mass changes even over the most challenging mountainous areas (complicated terrain and climate). With the global TanDEM-X DEM and increasing observations from the mission, we expect improved consistency in glacier MB estimation on large spatial scales as well as detailed investigation of glacier mass change variability in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number111777
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • Debris-covered glaciers
  • Glacier mass balance
  • Southeastern Tibetan Plateau
  • TanDEM-X

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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