Headline: Linking Atmospheric Pollution to Cryospheric Changes over the Third Pole

Known as "the Third Pole" (TP), the Tibetan Plateau and surrounding mountains hold the largest aggregate of glaciers outside the pole regions. Recent monitoring and projection indicated an accelerated glacier decline and increasing glacier runoff. The long-range transport of South Asian atmospheric pollutants, including light absorbing impurities (LAIs) such as black carbon (BC) and mineral dust (MD), can absorb the solar radiation in the atmosphere and reduce albedo after being deposited onto the cryosphere, thereby promoting glacier and snow melt.

A coordinated atmospheric pollution monitoring network has been launched covering the TP with emphasis on trans-Himalayan transects since 2013. TSP were collected for 24h at an interval of 3-6 days. BC/OC, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals were measured. Results reveal a consistent decrease in almost all analyzed parameters from south to north across the Himalayas. Geochemical signatures of carbonaceous aerosols indicate dominant sources of biomass burning and vehicle exhaust, in line with results of PAHs. Integrated analysis of satellite images and air mass trajectories suggest that the trans-boundary air pollution occurred episodically and concentrated in pre-monsoon seasons via upper air circulation, through-valley wind, and local convection.

Simulation results showed that carbonaceous aerosols produced positive/negative shortwave radiative forcing in the atmosphere/ground surface. Aerosols increased surface air temperatures by 0.1-0.5℃ over the TP and decreased temperatures in South Asia during the monsoon season. Surface snow/ice samples were collected from benchmark glaciers to estimate the impacts of LAIs on glacier melt with model assistance. BC (37%) and MD (32%) contribute to the summer melting of Laohugou Glacier in the northern TP. MD (38%) contributed more glacier melt than BC (11%) on Zhadang Glacier in the southern TP. In the southeastern TP, BC and MD contribute to 30% of the total glacier melt, up to 350 mm w.e. yr-1.

The monitoring network and ongoing studies point to trans-boundary pollution as an increasing stressor for the TP environment, and highlighted the link between atmospheric pollution and cryospheric changes as well as other surface ecosystems over high mountain regions.

Publication Year
Publication Type
Conference Paper / Report

Zhang, Q., Kang, S., Ji, Z., Li, Y., Chen, J., Zhang, G., Li, C., Cong, Z., Chen, P., Guo, J., Huang, J., Tripathee, L., Rupakheti, D., Li, X., Zhang, Y., Panday, A. K., & Rupakheti, M. (2016). Linking Atmospheric Pollution to Cryospheric Changes over the Third Pole. In Proceedings.

Staff involved
Projects involved
A Sustainable Atmosphere for the Kathmandu Valley (SusKat)