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Journal of Geographical Sciences    2014, Vol. 24 Issue (6) : 993-1008     DOI: 10.1007/s11442-014-1133-z
Orginal Article |
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. 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
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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.

Keywords remote sensing detection      glacier      object-oriented extraction method      shrinkage      Landsat TM/ ETM+      Heihe River Basin     
Fund: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
Issue Date: 09 July 2015
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Baojuan HUAI
Zhongqin LI
Shengjie WANG
Meiping SUN
Cite this article:   
Baojuan HUAI,Zhongqin LI,Shengjie WANG, et al. RS analysis of glaciers change in the Heihe River Basin, Northwest China, during the recent decades[J]. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 2014, 24(6): 993-1008.
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Figure 1  Location of the Heihe River Basin
ID Receive date Sensor Resolution (m) Path
L5135033_03320070601 2007-06-01 TM 28.5 135/033
L5133034_03420090928 2009-09-28 TM 28.5 133/034
L71133033_03320110809 2011-08-09 ETM+ 28.5/15 133/033
L5134033_03320100805 2010-08-05 TM 28.5 134/033
Table 1  Remote sensing images of the Heihe River Basin used in this study
Figure 2  Technical flowchart of derived glaciers
Figure 3  Different scales of segmentation and combination image in the Heihe River Basin
Figure 4  Object-oriented extraction process (a) Glaciers boundary by object-oriented method; (b) Glaciers boundary by manual correction and smoothing; (c) Ridgelines of glacier region; (d) Ridgelines cutting glaciers
Figure 5  Glacier shrinkage in the Heihe River Basin
Figure 6  Change of glacier area and number in the Heihe River Basin
Figure 7  Change of terminal elevation of the Heihe River Basin
Subbasin Number of glaciers Area of glaciers (km2)
1960s 2007/2011 Change rate (%) 1960s 2007/2011 Change rate (%)
Heihe River (5Y42) 464 365 -21.34 143.18 77.22 -46.07
Beida River (5Y43) 503 435 -13.52 218.51 153.95 -29.55
Total 967 800 -17.27 361.69 231.17 -36.08
Table 2  Glaciers change of Heihe River and Beida River
Branch Number of glaciers Area of glaciers (km2)
1960s 2007/2011 Change rate (%) 1960s 2007/2011 Change rate (%)
Dahe River 61 61 0 21.04 11.82 -43.80
Jiadao-Panjia River 18 20 11.11 5.76 3.29 -42.97
Babao River 42 35 -16.67 12.58 5.69 -54.77
Kekeli River 53 41 -22.64 19.46 10.01 -48.54
Upstream of Heihe River 79 56 -29.11 20.99 11.34 -45.95
Changqian River 41 22 -46.34 6.83 1.43 -79.14
Liyuan River 66 51 -22.73 17.56 8.88 -49.40
Bailang River 31 29 -6.45 16.24 12.28 -24.36
Maying River 73 50 -31.51 22.72 12.48 -45.07
Total 464 365 -21.34 143.18 77.22 -46.07
Table 3  Glaciers change of Heihe River
Branch Number of glaciers Area of glaciers (km2)
1960s 2007/2011 Change rate (%) 1960s 2007/2011 Change rate (%)
Fengle River 60 53 -11.67 24.94 18.06 -27.58
Hongshuiba River 150 131 -12.67 79.98 56.61 -29.23
Zhulongguan River 149 110 -26.17 62.86 41.83 -33.46
Right bank of Beida River 23 18 -21.74 4.05 2.34 -42.12
Gaoya Well 121 123 1.65 46.67 35.11 -24.78
Total 503 435 -13.52 218.51 153.95 -29.55
Table 4  Glaciers change of Beida River
Study areas Area change (km2) Change rate % Recession rate (%/a) Data source Method Period Author
Lenglong Range of Qilian Mountains -24.29 -23.57 -0.67 Topographic map, ETM Visual
1972-2007 Zhang et al., 2010
Shulennan Range of Qilian Mountains -55.00 -12.80 -0.36 Topographic map, ETM Visual
1970-2006 Zhang et al., 2011a
Yeniugou River Basin of Qilian Mountains -16.22 -25.71 -0.54 Topographic map, ASTER Visual
1956-2003 Yang et al., 2007
Western Qilian Mountains -124.2 -10.3 -0.29 Aerial photo, ETM Visual
1956-1990 Liu et al., 2002b
Heihe River Basin -32.41 -29.6 - Topographic map, ASTER Visual
1950s/1970s-2003 Wang et al., 2011a
Chinese Tianshan Mountains - -11.5 -0.22 - - 1960-2010 Wang et al., 2011b
Urumqi River Basin -6.65 -13.8 -0.45 Aerial photo, Topographic map, Aerophoto grametry 1962-1992 Chen et al., 1996
Kaidu River Basin -38.5 -11.6 -0.31 Topographic map, TM, ETM+ Visual
1963-2000 Liu et al., 2006
Gez River Basin -188.1 -10 -0.26 Topographic map, TM, ETM+ Visual
1960-1999 Liu et al., 2006
A’nyêmaqên Mountains -21.7 -17.0 -0.49 TM Visual
1966-2000 Liu et al., 2002
-14.91 -1.7 -0.05 Aerial photo, TM Visual
1969-2000 Lu et al., 2002
Naimona Nyi
-7.12 -8.44 -0.26 MSS,TM, ASTER Unsupervised Classification,
NDSI, Manual correction
1976-2003 Ye et al., 2007
Pumqu River Basin -131.24 -8.98 -0.30 Topographic map, ASTER Visual
1970s-2000 Jin et al., 2004
Mt. Qomolangma -501.91 -15.63 -0.52 MSS, TM Object-oriented method 1976-2006 Nie et al., 2010
Heihe River Basin -130.51 -36.08 -0.60 TM, ETM Object-oriented method 1960s-2007/2011 This study
Table 5  Shrinkage of the typical mountain glaciers in China
Figure 8  Annual temperature and precipitation change of the last 50 years in the Heihe River Basin
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