PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2018, Vol. 37 ›› Issue (11): 1545-1554.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2018.11.010

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Monitoring a glacier surge in the Kungey Mountain, eastern Pamir Plateau using remote sensing

Zhen ZHANG1(), Shiyin LIU2,3,4,*(), Junfeng WEI5, Zongli JIANG5   

  1. 1. School of Geomatics, Anhui University of Science and Technology, Huainan 232001, Anhui, China
    2. Yunnan Key Laboratory of International Rivers and Transboundary Eco-Security, Kunming 650500, China
    3. Institute of International Rivers and Eco-Security, Yunnan University, Kunming 650500, China
    4. State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Science, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, CAS, Lanzhou 730000, China
    5. School of Resource & Environment and Safety Engineering, Hunan University of Science and Technology, Xiangtan 411201, Hunan, China;
  • Received:2017-11-26 Revised:2018-09-21 Online:2018-11-28 Published:2018-11-28
  • Contact: Shiyin LIU;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41701087, No.41471067, No.41501294;Fundamental Program from the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (MOST), No.2013FY111400;Research Funds Provided to New Recruitments of Yunnan University, No.YJRC3201702


Surge-type glaciers are characterized by rapid ice movement in a relatively short phase and mass redistribution after a comparatively long quiescent phase. They are also related to glacier hazard events such as glacier collapse, flood, and landslide that may cause massive losses to humans. Therefore, monitoring surged glacier will not only help us to explore the mechanism of glacier surge, but also further the research in glacier disaster early warning and risk assessment that have important practical significance. In the process of compiling the second Chinese glacier inventory, a glacier coded as 5Y663L0023 in the Kungey Mountain, eastern Pamir Plateau was found to have advanced a long distance during 1963-2009. Thus, the main aim of this study was to investigate this advanced glacier based on ASTER and Landsat data. From 1990 to 1992, the glacier advanced about 81±30 m. Then the glacier continually advanced about 811±30 m during 2007-2011, which may be attributed to surge. The surge initiation and termination took place from 5 August 2007 to 2011. A total volume of glacier ice of about 32.7×106 m3 was transferred from the upstream below the equilibrium line of the glacier in the main phase of surging between 21 August 2007 and 26 October 2008. This led to an increase of the glacier surface maximum thickness (128.17±0.17 m), glacier area (0.34±0.03 km2), and glacier length (704±30 m). To fill the gap in glacier surge period research, we suggest the active phase of the surged glacier was 4 year, the quench phase was likely about 15 years at least. The main reason behind the glacier surge may be the increase in mean annual air temperature and annual precipitation, as was recorded at the Tashkurgan Meteorological Station in recent years. On the one hand, ice and snow meltwater and liquid precipitation were carried through the crevasses from the surface of the glacier down to the glacier bed when temperature rises. Consequently, the high shear stresses along the frozen side walls due to high-pressure water dammed at the bed progressively broke the ice until glacier surge. On the other hand, build-up of ice from snowfall, avalanches, and snowdrift in the reservoir area increased the driving stress, which led to higher ice creep rates. Eventually, part of the glacier bed was raised to the pressure melting point and produced meltwater. The meltwater did not escape from the glacier and raised basal water pressure that led to reduced basal drag and faster sliding.

Key words: glacier surge, remote sensing, elevation change, stereo pair data, eastern Pamir Plateau, Kungey Mountain