Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2022, Vol. 32 ›› Issue (1): 117-140.doi: 10.1007/s11442-022-1939-z

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Glacier wastage and its vulnerability in the Qilian Mountains

CAI Xingran1,2(), LI Zhongqin1(), XU Chunhai1,3   

  1. 1. State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Science, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, CAS, Lanzhou 730000, China
    2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    3. National Cryosphere Desert Data Center, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, CAS, Lanzhou 730000, China
  • Received:2020-10-19 Accepted:2021-08-10 Online:2022-01-25 Published:2022-03-25
  • Contact: LI Zhongqin;
  • About author:Cai Xingran (1993-), PhD Candidate, specialized in cryosphere and sustainable development. E-mail:
  • Supported by:
    Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research Program(2019QZKK0201);Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA20020102);Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA20060201);State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Science(SKLCS-ZZ-2021);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41721091);National Natural Science Foundation of China(42001067);National Cryosphere Desert Data Center(20D03)


Glaciers are a reliable freshwater resource in arid regions of West China and the vulnerability of its changes is closely related to regional ecosystem services and economic sustainable development. Here, we took the Qilian Mountains as an example and analyzed the spatiotemporal characteristics of glacier changes from 1998 to 2018, based on remote sensing images and the Second Chinese Glacier Inventory. We estimated the basic organizational framework and evaluation index system of glacier change vulnerability from exposure, sensitivity and adaptability, which covered the factors of physical geography, population status and socio-economic level. We analyzed the spatial and temporal evolutions of glacier change vulnerability by using the vulnerability evaluation model. Our results suggested that: (1) Glacier area and volume decreased by 71.12±98.98 km2 and 5.59±4.41 km3, respectively, over the recent two decades, which mainly occurred at the altitude below 4800 m, with an area shrinking rate of 2.5%. In addition, glaciers in the northern aspect (northwest, north and northeast) had the largest area reduction. Different counties exhibited remarkable discrepancies in glacier area reduction, Tianjuan and Minle presented the maximum and minimum decrease, respectively. (2) Glacier change vulnerability level showed a decreasing trend in space from the central to the northwestern and southeastern regions with remarkable differences. Vulnerability level had increased significantly over time and was mainly concentrated in moderate, high and extreme levels with typical characteristics of phases and regional complexity. Our study can not only help to understand and master the impacts of recent glacier changes on natural and social aspects but also be conducive to evaluate the influences of glacier retreat on socio-economic developments in the future, thus providing references for formulating relevant countermeasures to achieve regional sustainable development.

Key words: glacier change vulnerability, vulnerability level, spatiotemporal change, Qilian Mountains