April 18, 2018

Qiaqing Glacier Retreat & Lake Expansion, China

Posted by Mauri Pelto

Qiaqing Glacier in 1992 and 2017 Landsat images indicating flow, blue arrows, 1992 terminus at red arrow and 2017 terminus at yellow arrow. tributaries A, B and C. 

“Qiaqing” Glacier drains southeast from the Kona Kangri Massif at the eastern part of the Nyainqentanglha Shan. The glacier ends in a lake before feeding into the Parlung Zangbo and then Yarlung Tsanpo. This glacier feeds the Parlung Zangbo which is the site of numerous planned hydropower projects, last image, before joining the Yarlung Tsanpo which becomes the Brahmaputra River. The Zangmu Dam went online in 2015, this hydropower facility will produce 2.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year.  Wu et al. (2016) examined glacier change in the Nyainqentanglha Range from 1970-2014 noting an accelerating shrinkage of glaciers,with glacier area decreasing by 244  km2 or ~27%, with the western part of the range faring worse.  Wang and others (2011) note in the nearby Boshula Range that glacial lakes have expanded from 1970-2009 by 19% and the area that is glacier covered has decline by 13% during the 1970-2009 period.

Here we examine Landsat images from 1992 to 2017 to identify changes of Qiaqing Glacier. In 1992 the glacier terminated in a 1.5 km long proglaical lake with tributary A just separated from the glacier and tributary B and C joining the glacier on a wide front. In 1999 the snowline is at 5200 m the glacier has retreated several hundred meters and the blue ice of tributary B and C still reach the main glacier.  In 2015 the snowline is at  5000 m.  In 2016 the snowline is at 5200 m, a few icebergs are visible in the lake and tributary B and C  are disconnecting from the glacier, and the terminus has retreated upvalley from the former location of connection with tributary A.  By 2017 the terminus has retreated  1700 m since 1992, a rate of ~68 m/year.  The proglacial lake is now over 3 km long. The retreat is enhanced by the lake, but not driven by it.  The high snowlines above 5000 m leave an insufficient accumulation zone to maintain the current glacier size. The retreat here is similar to that of Thong Wuk Glacier and Jiongla Glacier.

Qiaqing Glacier in 1999, 2015 and 2016 Landsat images; 1992 terminus at red arrow and 2017 terminus at yellow arrow.  Purple dots indicate the snowline.