Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2019, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (1): 84-100.doi: 10.1007/s11442-019-1585-2

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Glacier and snow variations and their impacts on regional water resources in mountains

Haijun DENG1,2,3,4(), Yaning CHEN3, Yang LI5   

  1. 1. Fujian Provincial Engineering Research Center for Monitoring and Assessing Terrestrial Disasters, Fuzhou 350007, China
    2. State Key Laboratory Breeding Base of Humid Subtropical Mountaisn Ecology, Fuzhou 350007, China
    3. State Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, CAS, Urumqi 830011, China
    4. College of Geographical Sciences, Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou 350007, China
    5. Nuclear and Radiation Safety Center, Beijing 100082, China
  • Received:2018-05-05 Accepted:2018-06-08 Online:2019-01-25 Published:2019-03-15
  • About author:

    Author: Deng Haijun (1987-), PhD, specialized in climate and hydrological processes in mountains.E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41807159


Glaciers and snow are major constituents of solid water bodies in mountains; they can regulate the stability of local water sources. However, they are strongly affected by climate change. This study focused on the Tianshan Mountains, using glacier and snow datasets to analyse variations in glaciers, snow, water storage, and runoff. Three typical river basins (Aksu, Kaidou, and Urumqi Rivers) were selected to interpret the impacts of glacier and snow changes on regional water resources in the Tianshan Mountains. The results exhibited a nonlinear functional relationship between glacial retreat rate and area, demonstrating that small glacial retreat is more sensitive under climate change. Further, the glacial retreat rate at the low-middle elevation zone was seen to be faster than that at the high elevation zone. The regional average terrestrial water storage (TWS) decrease rate in the Tianshan Mountains was -0.7±1.53 cm/a during 2003-2015. The highest TWS deficit region was located in the central part of the Tianshan Mountains, which was closely related to sharp glacial retreats. The increases in glacier and snow meltwater led to an increase in runoff in the three typical river basins, especially that of the Aksu River (0.4×108 m3/a). The decreasing and thinning of areas, and increasing equilibrium line altitude (ELV) of glaciers have been the major causes for the decrease in runoff in the three river basins since the mid-1990s. Therefore, the results reveal the mechanisms causing the impacts of glaciers and snow reduction in mountains on regional water resources under climate change, and provide a reference for water resources management in the mountainous river basins.

Key words: climate change, water resources, glacier and snow, cryosphere, Tianshan Mountains