Assessing Orographic Variability in Glacial Thickness Changes at the Tibetan Plateau Using ICESat Laser Altimetry

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Abstract

Monitoring glacier changes is essential for estimating the water mass balance of the Tibetan Plateau. In this study, we exploit ICESat laser altimetry data in combination with the SRTM DEM and the GLIMS glacier mask to estimate trends in change in glacial thickness between 2003 and 2009 on the whole Tibetan Plateau. Considering acquisition conditions of ICESat measurements and terrain surface characteristics, annual glacier elevation trends were estimated for 15 different settings with respect to terrain slope and roughness. In the end, we only included ICESat elevations acquired over terrain with a slope below 20° and a roughness at the footprint scale below 15 m. With this setting, 90 glaciated areas could be distinguished. The results show that most of observed glaciated areas on the Tibetan Plateau are thinning, except for some glaciers in the northwest. In general, glacier elevations on the whole Tibetan Plateau decreased at an average rate of -0.17± 0.47 m per year (m a-1) between 2003 and 2009, taking together glaciers of any size, distribution, and location of the observed glaciated area. Both rate and rate error estimates are obtained by accumulating results from individual regions using least squares techniques. Our results notably show that trends in glacier thickness change indeed strongly depend on the relative position in a mountain range.
Original languageEnglish
Article number160
Number of pages19
JournalRemote Sensing
Volume9
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • glacier change
  • Tibetan Plateau
  • ICESat
  • GLIMS
  • SRTM DEM

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