Irrigation as a Potential Driver for Anomalous Glacier Behavior in High Mountain Asia

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Many glaciers in the northwest of High Mountain Asia (HMA) show an almost zero or positive mass balance, despite the global trend of melting glaciers. This phenomenon is often referred to as the “Karakoram anomaly,” although strongest positive mass balances can be found in the Kunlun Shan mountain range, northeast of the Karakoram. Using a regional climate model, in combination with a moisture-tracking model, we show that the increase in irrigation intensity in the lowlands surrounding HMA, particularly in the Tarim basin, can locally counter the effects of global warming on glaciers in Kunlun Shan, and parts of Pamir and northern Tibet, through an increase in summer snowfall and decrease in net radiance. Irrigation can thus affect the regional climate in a way that favors glacier growth, and future projections of glacier melt, which may impact millions of inhabitants surrounding HMA, will need to take into account predicted changes in irrigation intensity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2047–2054
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2018


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