Numerical simulations of Gurenhekou Glacier on the Tibetan Plateau using a full-Stokes ice dynamical model

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Zhao, L. ; Tian, L. ; Zwinger, T. ; Ding, R. ; Zong, J. ; Ye, Q. ; Moore, J. C. (2013)

We investigate the impact of climate change on a small Tibetan glacier that is representative of the tens of thousands of mountain glaciers in the region. We apply a three-dimensional, thermo-mechanically coupled full-Stokes model to Gurenhekou Glacier located in the southern Tibetan Plateau. The steep and rugged geometry requires use of such a flow model to simulate the dynamical evolution of the glacier. We parameterize the temperature and mass balance using nearby automatic weather stations and an energy balance model for another glacier in the same mountain range. Summer air temperature increased at 0.02 K a<sup>&minus;1</sup> over the past 50 yr, and the glacier has retreated at an average rate of 8.3 m a<sup>&minus;1</sup>. Prognostic simulations suggest an accelerated retreating rate up to 14 m a<sup>&minus;1</sup> for the next 50 yr under continued steady warming, which is consistent with observed increased retreat in the last decade. However, regional climate models suggest a marked increase in warming rate over Tibet during the 21st century, and this rate causes about a 1% per year loss of glaciated area and glacier volume. These changes imply that this small glacier will probably disappear in a century. Although Tibetan glaciers are not particularly sensitive to climate warming, the rather high warming rates predicted by regional climate models combined with the small sizes of most Tibetan glaciers suggest that significant numbers of glaciers will be lost in the region during the 21st century.
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