Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 26, Issue 23, pp 23645–23660 | Cite as

Meltwater hydrochemistry at four glacial catchments in the headwater of Indus River

  • Fan Zhang
  • Faizan-ur-Rehman Qaiser
  • Chen ZengEmail author
  • Ramesh Raj Pant
  • Guanxing Wang
  • Hongbo Zhang
  • Deliang Chen
Research Article


Glacier runoff shows significant change under global warming in the headwater region of the Indus River with great impact on its highly populated downstream area, but the hydrochemistry characteristics of meltwater and the changing mechanism remain unclear in this region. In this study, runoff water samples were collected during May and June, 2015, from four glacial catchments in the Upper Indus Basin to investigate general characteristics and daytime dynamics of meltwater runoff together with sediment and chemical contents. Results showed that glacier runoff in the studied area had an alkaline pH and much higher sediment yields than the local average of the non-glacier areas. The carbonate-dominated geological feature in the four catchments resulted in single chemical facies of Ca–HCO3. The dominant process determining the glacier runoff chemistry was rock-water interaction, with less soluble minerals and less intensive evaporate weathering in the Passu and Gulmit catchments than the B&B and Hinarchi catchments. Comparing the investigated catchments, the larger glacier with longer flow path exhibited higher runoff but lower melting rate, higher SSC resulting from higher erosive power of flow, and higher solute concentrations as a consequence of more intensive contact of meltwater with rock minerals along the longer flow path. For individual catchments, a negative correlation between TDS and flow rate (R2 = 0.26~0.53) and changing trends of ion ratios with flow rate demonstrated that under intensive melting conditions, rock-water interactions were reduced, resulting in dilution of solutes. Overall, the general chemical characteristics of the investigated glacier runoff indicated geological control, whereas individual glacier illustrated hydrological control on the daytime dynamics of glacier runoff chemistry. The presence of glacier terminal lake and agriculture land can significantly alter the hydrochemistry of downstream runoff.


Glacier runoff Meltwater chemistry Suspended sediment Rock-water interaction Glacier terminal lake Upper Indus Basin 


Funding information

This study was financially funded by the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research (STEP) program (grant no. 2019QZKK0203) and the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA20060202). The funding source has no such involvement in the study design, collection, analysis and interpretation of data, writing of the report, or decision to submit the article for publication.

Supplementary material

11356_2019_5422_MOESM1_ESM.docx (195 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 195 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Tibetan Environment Changes and Land Surface Processes, Institute of Tibetan Plateau ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.CAS Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.COMSATS University IslamabadIslamabadPakistan
  5. 5.Central Department of Environmental ScienceTribhuvan UniversityKirtipurNepal
  6. 6.Regional Climate Group, Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of GothenburgGothenburgSweden

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