Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2014, Vol. 24 ›› Issue (6): 993-1008.doi: 10.1007/s11442-014-1133-z

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

RS analysis of glaciers change in the Heihe River Basin, Northwest China, during the recent decades

Baojuan HUAI1,2(), Zhongqin LI1,3, Shengjie WANG3, Meiping SUN3, Ping ZHOU1, Yan XIAO4   

  1. 1. State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute/Tianshan Glaciological Station, CAS, Lanzhou 730000, China
    2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    3. College of Geography and Environmental Sciences, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, China
    4. College of Environment and Planning, Liaocheng University, Liaocheng 252059, Shandong, China
  • Received:2014-01-03 Accepted:2014-02-25 Online:2014-06-20 Published:2014-06-20
  • About author:

    Huai Baojuan (1988-), PhD, specialized in GIS and glaciology. E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    Funds for Creative Research Groups of China, No.41121001.Project for Incubation of Specialists in Glaciology and Geocryology of National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.J1210003/J0109.National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41340014.National Basic Research Program of China, No.2013CBA01801


The Heihe River Basin is the second largest inland river basin in Northwest China and it is also a hotspot in arid hydrology, water resources and other aspects of researches in cold regions. In addition, the Heihe River Basin has complete landscape, moderate watershed size, and typical social ecological environmental problems. So far, there has been no detailed assessment of glaciers change information of the whole river basin. 1:50,000 topographic map data, Landsat TM/ETM+ remote sensing images and digital elevation model data were used in this research. Through integrated computer automatic interpretation and visual interpretation methods, the object-oriented image feature extraction method was applied to extract glacier outline information. Glaciers change data were derived from analysis, and the glacier variation and its response to climate change in the period 1956/1963-2007/ 2011 were also analyzed. The results show that: (1) In the period 1956/1963-2007/2011, the Heihe River Basin’s glaciers had an evident retreat trend, the total area of glaciers decreased from 361.69 km2 to 231.17 km2; shrinking at a rate of 36.08%, with average single glacier area decrease 0.14 km2; the total number of the glaciers decreased from 967 to 800. (2) Glaciers in this basin are mainly distributed at elevations of 4300-4400 m, 4400-4500 m and 4500-4600 m; and there are significant regional differences in glaciers distribution and glaciers change. (3) Compared with other western mountain glaciers, glaciers retreat in the Heihe River Basin has a higher rate. (4) Analysis of the six meteorological stations’ annual average temperature and precipitation data from 1960 to 2010 suggests that the mean annual temperature increased significantly and the annual precipitation also showed an increasing trend. It is concluded that glacier shrinkage is closely related with temperature rising, besides, glacier melting caused by rising temperatures greater than glacier mass supply by increased precipitation to some extent.

Key words: remote sensing detection, glacier, object-oriented extraction method, shrinkage, Landsat TM/ ETM+, Heihe River Basin