Projected climate change and its impacts on glaciers and water resources in the headwaters of the Tarim River, NW China/Kyrgyzstan

Michel Wortmann*, Doris Duethmann, Christoph Menz, Tobias Bolch, Shaochun Huang, Jiang Tong, Zbigniew W. Kundzewicz, Valentina Krysanova

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Glacierised river catchments are highly sensitive to climate change, while large populations may depend on their water resources. The irrigation agriculture and the communities along the Tarim River, NW China, strongly depend on the discharge from the glacierised catchments surrounding the Taklamakan Desert. While recent increasing discharge has been beneficial for the agricultural sector, future runoff under climate change is uncertain. We assess three climate change scenarios by forcing two glacio-hydrological models with output of eight general circulation models. The models have different glaciological modelling approaches but were both calibrated to discharge and glacier mass balance observations. Projected changes in climate, glacier cover and river discharge are examined over the twenty-first century and generally point to warmer and wetter conditions. The model ensemble projects median temperature and precipitation increases of + 1.9–5.3 °C and + 9–24%, respectively, until the end of the century compared to the 1971–2000 reference period. Glacier area is projected to shrink by 15–73% (model medians, range over scenarios), depending on the catchment. River discharge is projected to first increase by about 20% in the Aksu River catchments with subsequent decreases of up to 20%. In contrast, discharge in the drier Hotan and Yarkant catchments is projected to increase by 15–60% towards the end of the century. The large uncertainties mainly relate to the climate model ensemble and the limited observations to constrain the glacio-hydrological models. Sustainable water resource management will be key to avert the risks associated with the projected changes and their uncertainties.
Original languageEnglish
Article number30
Number of pages24
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2022


  • Tarim River
  • SWIM-G
  • WASA
  • Climate change impact assessment
  • Glacio-hydrological modelling


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