Intensified paraglacial slope failures due to accelerating downwasting of a temperate glacier in Mt. Gongga, southeastern Tibetan Plateau

Yan Zhong, Qiao Liu*, Matt Westoby, Yong Nie, Francesca Pellicciotti, Bo Zhang, Jialun Cai, Guoxiang Liu, Haijun Liao, Xuyang Lu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Topographic development via paraglacial slope failure (PSF) represents a complex interplay between geological structure, climate, and glacial denudation. Southeastern Tibet has experienced amongst the highest rates of ice mass loss in High Mountain Asia in recent decades, but few studies have focused on the implications of this mass loss on the stability of paraglacial slopes. We used repeat satellite- and unpiloted aerial vehicle (UAV)-derived imagery between 1990 and 2020 as the basis for mapping PSFs from slopes adjacent to Hailuogou Glacier (HLG), a 5 km long monsoon temperate valley glacier in the Mt. Gongga region. We observed recent lowering of the glacier tongue surface at rates of up to 0.88 m a−1 in the period 2000 to 2016, whilst overall paraglacial bare ground area (PBGA) on glacier-adjacent slopes increased from 0.31 ± 0.27 km2 in 1990 to 1.38 ± 0.06 km2 in 2020. Decadal PBGA expansion rates were ∼ 0.01 km2 a−1, 0.02 km2 a−1, and 0.08 km2 in the periods 1990–2000, 2000–2011, and 2011–2020 respectively, indicating an increasing rate of expansion of PBGA. Three types of PSFs, including rockfalls, sediment-mantled slope slides, and headward gully erosion, were mapped, with a total area of 0.75 ± 0.03 km2 in 2020. South-facing valley slopes (true left of the glacier) exhibited more destabilization (56 % of the total PSF area) than north-facing (true right) valley slopes (44 % of the total PSF area). Deformation of sediment-mantled moraine slopes (mean 1.65–2.63 ± 0.04 cm d−1) and an increase in erosion activity in ice-marginal tributary valleys caused by a drop in local base level (gully headward erosion rates are 0.76–3.39 cm d−1) have occurred in tandem with recent glacier downwasting. We also observe deformation of glacier ice, possibly driven by destabilization of lateral moraine, as has been reported in other deglaciating mountain glacier catchments. The formation, evolution, and future trajectory of PSFs at HLG (as well as other monsoon-dominated deglaciating mountain areas) are related to glacial history, including recent rapid downwasting leading to the exposure of steep, unstable bedrock and moraine slopes, and climatic conditions that promote slope instability, such as very high seasonal precipitation and seasonal temperature fluctuations that are conducive to freeze–thaw and ice segregation processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-42
Number of pages20
JournalEarth Surface Dynamics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2022


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