Changes in glacier albedo and the driving factors in the Western Nyainqentanglha Mountains from 2001 to 2020

Shaoting Ren, Li Jia*, Massimo Menenti, Jing Zhang

*Corresponding author for this work

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Glacier surface albedo dominates glacier energy balance, thus strongly affecting the glacier mass balance. Glaciers in the Western Nyainqentanglha Mountains (WNM) experienced large mass losses in the past two decades, but long-term changes of glacier albedo and its drivers are less understood. In this study, we retrieved glacier albedo with MODIS reflectance data to characterize the spatiotemporal variability of albedo from 2001 to 2020. Air temperature, rainfall, snowfall and deposition of light-absorbing impurities (LAIs) were evaluated as potential drivers of the observed variability in glacier albedo. The results showed that: (1) the glacier albedo experienced large inter-annual fluctuations, with the mean albedo being 0.552 ± 0.002 and a clear decreasing trend of 0.0443 ± 2 × 10-4 dec-1 in the WNM. The fastest decline was observed in autumn and in the vicinity of the equilibrium line altitude, indicating an extended melt season and an expansion of the ablation region to higher elevation; (2) local meteorology and LAIs deposition are the main drivers of glacier albedo change, but their effects on seasonal albedos are different due to different glacier processes. Both air temperature and the balance between liquid and solid precipitation affect summer and autumn albedos due to glacier ablation. Air temperature is the main driver of spring and winter albedos due to sublimation and metamorphism of snow, while snowfall carried by westerlies has limited influence on these two seasonal albedos due to less snowfall. LAIs mainly affect spring albedo due to high concentration coupled with the southerly wind in spring. These findings highlight the significance of changes in glacier albedo and the key role of local meteorology and LAIs deposition in determining such changes, which play an important role in glaciological and cryosphere processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number45
Pages (from-to)1–15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • energy balance
  • glacier albedo
  • mountain glaciers
  • remote sensing

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