Articles | Volume 9, issue 3
The Cryosphere, 9, 1213–1222, 2015
The Cryosphere, 9, 1213–1222, 2015

Research article 15 Jun 2015

Research article | 15 Jun 2015

Dramatic loss of glacier accumulation area on the Tibetan Plateau revealed by ice core tritium and mercury records

S. Kang1,2, F. Wang3, U. Morgenstern4, Y. Zhang1, B. Grigholm5, S. Kaspari6, M. Schwikowski7, J. Ren1, T. Yao1,2, D. Qin1, and P. A. Mayewski5 S. Kang et al.
  • 1State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou 730000, China
  • 2CAS Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
  • 3Centre for Earth Observation Science, Department of Environment and Geography, and Department of Chemistry, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2, Canada
  • 4Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, National Isotope Centre, Lower Hutt 5040, New Zealand
  • 5Climate Change Institute and Department of Earth Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469-5790, USA
  • 6Department of Geological Sciences, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, WA 98926, USA
  • 7Paul Scherrer Institute, 5232 Villigen, Switzerland

Abstract. Two ice cores were retrieved from high elevations (~5800 m a.s.l.) at Mt. Nyainqêntanglha and Mt. Geladaindong in the southern and central Tibetan Plateau region. The combined tracer analysis of tritium (3H), 210Pb and mercury, along with other chemical records, provided multiple lines of evidence supporting that the two coring sites had not received net ice accumulation since at least the 1950s and 1980s, respectively. These results implied an annual ice loss rate of more than several hundred millimeter water equivalent over the past 30–60 years. Both mass balance modeling at the sites and in situ data from the nearby glaciers confirmed a continuously negative mass balance (or mass loss) in the region due to dramatic warming in recent decades. Along with a recent report on Naimona'nyi Glacier in the Himalayas, the findings suggest that the loss of accumulation area of glacier is a possibility from the southern to central Tibetan Plateau at high elevations, probably up to about 5800 m a.s.l. This mass loss raises concerns over the rapid rate of glacier ice loss and associated changes in surface glacier runoff, water availability, and sea levels.