• Non-ICIMOD publication
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Late Quaternary glaciation of Tibet and the bordering mountains: a review

  • Lehmkuhl, F.
  • Owen, L. A.
Abundant glacial geologic evidence present throughout Tibet and the bordering mountains shows that glaciers have oscillated many times throughout the late Quaternary. Yet the timing and extent of glacial advances is still highly debated. Recent studies, however, suggest that glaciation was most extensive prior to the last glacial cycle. Furthermore, these studies show that in many regions of Tibet and the Himalaya glaciation was generally more extensive during the earlier part of the last glacial cycle and was limited in extent during the global Last Glacial Maximum (marine oxygen isotope stage 2). Holocene glacial advances were also limited in extent, with glaciers advancing just a few kilometers from their present ice margins. In the monsoon-influenced regions, glaciation appears to be strongly controlled by changes in insolation that govern the geographical extent of the monsoon and consequently precipitation distribution. Monsoonal precipitation distribution strongly influences glacier mass balances, allowing glaciers in high altitude regions to advance during times of increased precipitation, which are associated with insolation maxima during glacial times. Furthermore, there are strong topographic controls on glaciation, particular in regions where there are rainshadow effects. It is likely that glaciers, influenced by the different climatic systems, behaved differently at different times. However, more detailed geomorphic and geochronological studies are needed to fully explore regional variations. Changes in glacial ice volume in Tibet and the bordering mountains were relatively small after the global LGM as compared to the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets. It is therefore unlikely that meltwater draining from Tibet and the bordering mountains during the Lateglacial and early Holocene would have been sufficient to affect oceanic circulation. However, changes in surface albedo may have influenced the dynamics of monsoonal systems and this may have important implications for global climate change. Drainage development, including lake level changes on the Tibetan plateau and adjacent regions has been strongly controlled by climatic oscillations on centennial, decadal and especially millennial timescales. Since the Little Ice Age, and particularly during this century, glaciers have been progressively retreating. This pattern is likely to continue throughout the 21st century, exacerbated by human-induced global warming.
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