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MODIS-derived interannual variability of the equilibrium-line altitude across the Tibetan Plateau

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2016

Marinka Spiess*
Department of Geography, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany
Christoph Schneider
Department of Geography, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany
Fabien Maussion
lnstitute of Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
Correspondence: Marinka Spieβ <>
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Using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Level 1 radiance Swath Data (MOD02QKM) with a spatial resolution of 250 m, we derive snowlines during July–September 2001–12 for several mountain ranges distributed across the Tibetan Plateau (TP). Radiance bands 1 and 2 are projected to the study area and processed automatically. The discrimination between snow and ice is done using a k-mean cluster analysis and the snowlines are delineated based on a fixed percentile of the snow-cover altitude. The highest transient snowline altitude is then taken as a proxy for the equilibrium-line altitude (ELA). In the absence of measured glaciological, meteorological or hydrological data, our ELA time series enable better understanding of atmosphere-cryosphere couplings on the TP. Interannual ELA variability is linked to local and remote climate indices using a correlation analysis. Southerly flow and higher temperatures are linked with a higher ELA in most regions. Eastern and Trans-Himalayan sites show positive correlations between winter temperatures and ELA. As winter temperatures are substantially below zero, this suggests an enhancement of winter sublimation as opposed to a reduction in accumulation. It appears that large-scale atmospheric forcing has varying and sometimes opposite influences on the annual ELA in different regions on the TP.

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