Climate Dynamics

, Volume 50, Issue 9–10, pp 3557–3570 | Cite as

The response of surface mass and energy balance of a continental glacier to climate variability, western Qilian Mountains, China

  • Weijun Sun
  • Xiang Qin
  • Yetang Wang
  • Jizu Chen
  • Wentao Du
  • Tong Zhang
  • Baojuan Huai


To understand how a continental glacier responds to climate change, it is imperative to quantify the surface energy fluxes and identify factors controlling glacier mass balance using surface energy balance (SEB) model. Light absorbing impurities (LAIs) at the glacial surface can greatly decrease surface albedo and increase glacial melt. An automatic weather station was set up and generated a unique 6-year meteorological dataset for the ablation zone of Laohugou Glacier No. 12. Based on these data, the surface energy budget was calculated and an experiment on the glacial melt process was carried out. The effect of reduced albedo on glacial melting was analyzed. Owing to continuous accumulation of LAIs, the ablation zone had been darkening since 2010. The mean value of surface albedo in melt period (June through September) dropped from 0.52 to 0.43, and the minimum of daily mean value was as small as 0.1. From the records of 2010–2015, keeping the clean ice albedo fixed in the range of 0.3–0.4, LAIs caused an increase of +7.1 to +16 W m−2 of net shortwave radiation and an removal of 1101–2663 mm water equivalent. Calculation with the SEB model showed equivalent increases in glacial melt were obtained by increasing air temperature by 1.3 and 3.2 K, respectively.


Surface energy balance Glacier melt Light absorbing impurities Albedo Radiative forcing 



This work was funded by the Natural Science Foundation of China (41401074, 41371091, 41401040), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KJZD-EW-G03-04), and Scientific Research Foundation for the introduction of talent by Shandong Normal University.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Geography and EnvironmentShandong Normal UniversityJinanChina
  2. 2.Qilian Shan Station of Glaciology and Ecologic Environment, State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and ResourcesChinese Academy of SciencesLanzhouChina
  3. 3.Institute of Climate SystemChinese Academy of Meteorological SciencesBeijingChina

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