Articles | Volume 6, issue 6
Research article
06 Dec 2012
Research article |  | 06 Dec 2012

The footprint of Asian monsoon dynamics in the mass and energy balance of a Tibetan glacier

T. Mölg, F. Maussion, W. Yang, and D. Scherer

Abstract. Determinations of glacier-wide mass and energy balance are still scarce for the remote mountains of the Tibetan Plateau, where field measurements are challenging. Here we run and evaluate a physical, distributed mass balance model for Zhadang Glacier (central Tibet, 30° N) based on in-situ measurements over 2009–2011 and an uncertainty estimate by Monte Carlo and ensemble strategies. The model application aims to provide the first quantification of how the Indian Summer Monsoon (ISM) impacts an entire glacier over the various stages of the monsoon's annual cycle. We find a strong and systematic ISM footprint on the interannual scale. Early (late) monsoon onset causes higher (lower) accumulation, and reduces (increases) the available energy for ablation primarily through changes in absorbed shortwave radiation. By contrast, only a weak footprint exists in the ISM cessation phase. Most striking though is the core monsoon season: local mass and energy balance variability is fully decoupled from the active/break cycle that defines large-scale atmospheric variability during the ISM. Our results demonstrate quantitatively that monsoon onset strongly affects the ablation season of glaciers in Tibet. However, we find no direct ISM impact on the glacier in the main monsoon season, which has not been acknowledged so far. This result also adds cryospheric evidence that, once the monsoon is in full swing, regional atmospheric variability prevails on the Tibetan Plateau in summer.