One Decade of Glacier Mass Changes on the Tibetan Plateau Derived from Multisensoral Remote Sensing Data

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Dokumentart: PhDThesis
Date: 2014
Language: English
Faculty: 7 Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Department: Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Advisor: Hochschild, Volker (Prof. Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2014-07-21
DDC Classifikation: 500 - Natural sciences and mathematics
550 - Earth sciences
Keywords: Gletscher , Tibet , Fernerkundung
Other Keywords:
glacier elevation changes
Tibetan Plateau
remote sensing
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The Tibetan Plateau (TP) with an average altitude of 4,500 meters above sea level is characterized by many glaciers and ice caps. Glaciers are a natural indicator for climate variability in this high mountain environment where meteorological stations are rare or non-existent. In addition, the melt water released from the Tibetan glaciers is feeding the headwaters of the major Asian river systems and contributes to the rising levels of endorheic lakes on the plateau. As many people directly rely on the glacier melt water a continuous glacier monitoring program is necessary in this region. In situ measurements of glaciers are important, but are spatial limited due to large logistical efforts, physical constrains and high costs. Remote sensing techniques can overcome this gap and are suitable to complement in situ measurements on a larger scale. In the last decade several remote sensing studies dealt with areal changes of glaciers on the TP. However, glacier area changes only provide a delayed signal to a changing climate and the amount of melt water released from the glaciers cannot be quantified. Therefore it is important to measure the glacier mass balance. In order to estimate glacier mass balances and their spatial differences on the TP, several remote sensing techniques and sensors were synthesized in this thesis. In a first study data from the Ice Cloud and Elevation Satellite (ICESat) mission were employed. ICESat was in orbit between 2003 and 2009 and carried a laser altimeter which recorded highly accurate surface elevation measurements. As in mid-latitudes these measurements are rather sparse glaciers on the TP were grouped into eight climatological homogeneous sub-regions in order to perform a statistical sound analysis of glacier elevation changes. To assess surface elevation changes of a single mountain glacier from ICESat data, an adequate spatial sampling of ICESat measurements need to be present. This is the case for the Grosser Aletschgletscher, located in the Swiss Alps which served as a test site in this thesis. In another study data from the current TanDEM-X satellite mission and from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) conducted in February 2000 were employed to calculate glacier elevation changes. In a co-authored study, these estimates could be compared with glacier elevation changes obtained from the current French Pléiades satellite mission. In order to calculate glacier mass balances, the derived elevation changes were combined with assumptions about glacier area and ice density in all studies. In this thesis contrasting patterns of glacier mass changes were found on the TP. With an ICESat derived estimate of -15.6±10.1 Gt/a between 2003 and 2009 the average glacier mass balance on the TP was clearly negative. However, some glaciers in the central and north-western part of the TP showed a neutral mass balance or a slightly positive anomaly which was also confirmed by data from the current TanDEM-X satellite mission. A possible explanation of this anomaly in mass balance could be a compensation of the temperature driven glacier melt due to an increase in precipitation.

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