Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2015, Vol. 70 ›› Issue (1): 3-16.doi: 10.11821/dlxb201501001

• Orginal Article •     Next Articles

The contemporary glaciers in China based on the Second Chinese Glacier Inventory

Shiyin LIU1, Xiaojun YAO2, Wanqin GUO1, Junli XU1, Donghui SHANGGUAN1, Junfeng WEI1, Weijia BAO1, Lizong WU1   

  1. 1. State Key Laboratory of Cryosphere Sciences, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, CAS, Lanzhou 730000, China
    2. College of Geography and Environmental Science, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, China
  • Received:2014-10-14 Revised:2014-11-10 Online:2015-01-20 Published:2015-01-20
  • Supported by:
    National Basic Work Program of MST, No.2013FY111400;National Science-technology Support Plan Project, No.2012BAC19B07;Major Project of CAS, No.KZZD-EW-12-1


The Second Chinese Glacier Inventory (SCGI) was compiled based on remote sensing images after 2004 including Landsat TM/ETM+ and ASTER images, and the digital elevation models (DEMs) from SRTM. The SCGI shows that there are 48,571 glaciers with a total area of 5.18×104 km2 and ice volume of 4.3×103-4.7×103 km3 in China (including glaciers measured from 1:50,000 or 1:100,000 topographic maps made from the 1960s to the 1980s because of no high quality remote sensing images for the contemporary glacier inventories). The number of glaciers with the area below 0.5 km2 reaches 33,061 and accounts for the majority part (66.07%) of glaciers in China. Glaciers with areas between 1.0 km2 and 50.0 km2 are totaled as ~3.40×104 km2 (~2.65×103 km3 in ice volume) and constitute the main part of glaciers in China. The Yengisogat Glacier (359.05 km2), located in the Shaksgam Valley, north slope of the Karakoram Mountain, is the largest glacier in China. The glaciers are spatially distributed in 14 mountains and plateaus in western China. The Kunlun Mountains has the largest number of glaciers in China, followed by Tianshan Mountains, Nyainqêntanglha Range, the Himalayas and Karakoram. Glaciers in the above five mountains account for 72.26% of the total glacier number in China, however, over 55% of the total area of glaciers and 59% of the total ice storage in China are concentrated in the Kunlun Mountains, Nyainqêntanglha Range and Tianshan Mountains. The number and area of glaciers in Karakoram Mountains are less than those in the Himalayas, but the volume of the former is more than that of the latter because the glaciers in the Karakoram are generally larger. Some 4/5 of the total area of glaciers in China is mainly distributed in an altitudinal band between 4500-6500 m a.s.l. with regional differences depending on the general elevations of various mountains. Analogously, there is an obvious difference of glaciers in basins. The first level basin having the most glaciers is the East Asia interior drainage area (5Y) which occupies ~40% of glaciers in China. The Yellow River basin (5J) has the fewest glaciers where only 164 with an area of 126.72 km2 are distributed. Xinjiang and Xizang autonomous regions are the two provincial units rich in glaciers, with ~9/10 of the total area and ice storage of glaciers in China.

Key words: glacier, inventory, area, spatial distribution, China