Glacier mass balance in the Nyainqentanglha mountains between 2000 and 2017 retrieved from ZiYuan-3 stereo images and the SRTM DEM

Shaoting Ren, Massimo Menenti, Li Jia, Jing Zhang, Jingxiao Zhang, Xin Li

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Mountain glaciers are excellent indicators of climate change and have an important role in the terrestrial water cycle and food security in many parts of the world. Glaciers are the major water source of rivers and lakes in the Nyainqentanglha Mountains (NM) region, where the glacier area has the second largest extent on the Tibetan Plateau. The potential of the high spatial resolution ZiYuan-3 (ZY-3) Three-Line-Array (TLA) stereo images to retrieve glacier mass balance has not been sufficiently explored. In this study, we optimized the procedure to extract a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) from ZY-3 TLA stereo images and estimated the geodetic mass balance of representative glaciers in the two typical areas of the NM using ZY-3 DEMs and the C-band Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) DEM in three periods, i.e., 2000-2013, 2013-2017 and 2000-2017. The results provide detailed information towards better understanding of glacier change and specifically show that: (1) with our new stereo procedure, ZY-3 TLA data can significantly increase point cloud density and decrease invalid data on the glacier surface map to generate a high resolution (5 m) glacier mass balance map; (2) the glacier mass balance in both the Western Nyainqentanglha Mountains (WNM) and Eastern Nyainqentanglha Mountains (ENM) was negative in 2000-2017, and experienced faster mass loss in recent years (2013-2017) in the WNM. Overall, the glaciers in the western and eastern NM show different change patterns since they are influenced by different climate regimes; the glacier mass balances in WNM was-0.22 ± 0.23 m w.e. a-1 and-0.43 ± 0.06 m w.e. a-1 in 2000-2013 and 2013-2017, respectively, while in 2000-2017, it was-0.30 ± 0.19 m w.e. a-1 in the WNM and-0.56 ± 0.20 m w.e. a-1 in the ENM; (3) in the WNM, the glaciers experienced mass loss in 2000-2013 and 2013-2017 in the ablation zone, while in the accumulation zone mass increased in 2000-2013 and a large mass loss occurred in 2013-2017; as regards the ENM, the glacier mass balance was negative in 2000-2017 in both zones; (4) glacier mass balance can be affected by the fractional abundance of debris and glacier slope; (5) the glacier mass balances retrieved by ZY-3 and TanDEM-X data agreed well in the ablation zone, while a large difference occurred in the accumulation zone because of the snow/firn penetration of the X-band SAR signal.

Original languageEnglish
Article number864
Number of pages35
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Geodetic method
  • Glacier mass balance
  • Nyainqentanglha Mountains
  • Point cloud
  • Three-line-array stereo images
  • Tibetan Plateau
  • ZY-3

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