A glacier inventory for the western Nyainqentanglha range and the Nam Co Basin, Tibet, and glacier changes 1976-2009

T. Bolch*, T. Yao, S. Kang, M. F. Buchroithner, D. Scherer, F. Maussion, E. Huintjes, C. Schneider

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

249 Citations (Scopus)


The western Nyainqentanglha Range is located in the south-eastern centre of the Tibetan Plateau. Its north-western slopes drain into Lake Nam Co. The region is of special interest for glacio-climatological research as it is influenced by both the continental climate of Central Asia and the Indian Monsoon system, and situated at the transition zone between temperate and subcontinental glaciers. A glacier inventory for the whole mountain range was generated for the year around 2001 using automated remote sensing and GIS techniques based on Landsat ETM+ and SRTM3 DEM data. Glacier change analysis was based on data from Hexagon KH-9 and Landsat MSS (both 1976), Metric Camera (1984), and Landsat TM/ETM+ (1991, 2001, 2005, 2009). Manual adjustment was especially necessary for delineating the debris-covered glaciers and the glaciers on the panchromatic Hexagon data. In the years around 2001 the whole mountain range contained about 960 glaciers covering an area of 795.6 ± 22.3 km2 while the ice in the drainage basin of Nam Co covered 198.1 ± 5.6 km2. The median elevation of the glaciers was about 5800 m with the majority terminating around 5600 m. Five glaciers with debris-covered tongues terminated lower than 5200 m. The glacier area decreased by -6.1 ± 3% between 1976 and 2001. This is less than reported in previous studies based on the 1970s topographic maps and Landsat data from 2000. Glaciers continued to shrink during the period 2001-2009. No advancing glaciers were detected. Detailed length measurements for five glaciers indicated a retreat of around 10 m per year (1976-2009). Ice cover is higher south-east of the mountain ridge which reflects the windward direction to the monsoon. The temperature increase during the ablation period was probably the main driver of glacier wastage, but the complex glacier-climate interactions need further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-433
Number of pages15
JournalThe Cryosphere
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2010


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