Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2019, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (6): 984-1000.doi: 10.1007/s11442-019-1640-z

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Glacier changes from 1975 to 2016 in the Aksu River Basin, Central Tianshan Mountains

Qifei ZHANG1,2, Yaning CHEN1*(), Zhi LI1, Yupeng LI1,2, Yanyun XIANG1, Wei BIAN1,2   

  1. 1. State Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, CAS, Urumqi 830011, China
    2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2018-03-22 Accepted:2018-09-29 Online:2019-06-25 Published:2019-06-25
  • About author:

    Author: Zhang Qifei, PhD, specialized in glacier change and water resources. E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41630859, No.41471030


In this study, we analyzed glacier changes in the Aksu River Basin during the period 1975-2016, based on Landsat MSS/TM/ETM+/OLI imagery analysis and the Chinese Glacier Inventory (CGI). The results showed that the total number, area, and volume of the studied glaciers in the Aksu River Basin decreased by 202 (7.65%), 965.7 km2 (25.88%), and 74.85-78.52 km3 (23.72%-24.3%), respectively. The rate of glacier retreat in the basin was slower in the north, northwest and west, but reached the highest in the east (measuring 0.86% yr-1). Furthermore, there were significant regional differences in the distribution and change of glaciers, the Kumalak River Basin had the largest glacier number and area, about 63.15% and 76.47% of the studied basin, and the rate of glacier retreat in the Kumalak River Basin was 0.65% yr-1, it was higher than the Toxkan River Basin which reached 0.57% yr-1. We found the shrinkage rate of glacier for different periods in the past 41 years, during 1975-1990 the glaciers showed the greatest retreat, while the rate of glacier area retreat slowed down significantly from 1990 to 2000. In recent 16 years since 2000, the rate of glacier retreat in the Toxkan River Basin was higher compared with 1990-2000. The RGI50-13.04920 glacier of Kumalak River Basin had been in a state of retreat since 1990. Over the past 41 years, the temperature and precipitation in the Aksu River Basin increased obviously, and the warming temperatures were clearly the main reason for glacier retreat in the region, while the increased precipitation in the mountain area may have a direct relation with the retreating rate of glaciers.

Key words: glacier change, glacier retreat, remote sensing, Aksu River Basin