Heterogeneity in supraglacial debris thickness and its role in glacier mass changes of the Mount Gongga

Yong Zhang, Yukiko Hirabayashi, Koji Fujita, Shi Yin Liu, Qiao Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


In the Tibetan Plateau, many glaciers have extensive covers of supraglacial debris in their ablation zones, which affects glacier response to climate change by altering ice melting and spatial patterns of mass loss. Insufficient debris thickness data make it difficult to analyze regional debris-cover effects. Maritime glaciers of the Mount Gongga have been characterized by a substantial reduction in glacier area and ice mass in recent decades. The thermal property of the debris layer estimated from remotely sensed data reveals that debris-covered glaciers are dominant in this region, on which the proportion of debris cover to total glacier area varies from 1.74% to 53.0%. Using a physically-based debris-cover effect assessment model, we found that although the presence of supraglacial debris has a significant insulating effect on heavily debris-covered glaciers, it accelerates ice melting on ~10.2% of total ablation zone and produces rapid wastage of ~25% of the debris-covered glaciers, leading to the similar mass losses between the debris-covered and debris-free glaciers. Widespread debris cover also facilitates the development of active terminus regions. Regional differences in debris-cover effects are apparent, highlighting the importance of debris cover for understanding glacier mass changes in the Tibetan Plateau and other mountain ranges around the world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-184
Number of pages15
JournalScience China Earth Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Jan 1
Externally publishedYes


  • Mount Gongga
  • debris-cover effect
  • glacier status
  • ice melting
  • maritime glacier

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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