Photo Friday: China’s Disappearing Glaciers

Celebrated during late September, the Mid-Autumn festival or Moon festival is a harvest festival celebrated by the Chinese and Vietnamese people. As people in China celebrate the harvest season, the melting of Xinjiang’s glaciers is threatening the water source and agriculture of the Urumqi city.

Li Zhongqin, a scientist who heads the Tianshan Mountains Glaciological Station of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, makes a seasonal hike toward the top of a glacier in the Tianshan mountains at the end of every summer to measure the thinning of the glacier, reports NPR. “We come up here each month to check it, to see how fast the glacier’s melt. Each year, the glacier is 15 feet thinner,” Zhongqin told Morning Edition’s Rob Schmitz.

Though the government has banned tourism on the glaciers in an effort to reduce the impact of pollution, global carbon emissions are a bigger threat. The melting glaciers are a big problem because not only are the glaciers the source of water for millions of people, but they also impact agriculture in drier areas like the city of Turpan that sits on the edge of Taklamakan Desert. Though dry, the region is an agriculture powerhouse which depends on the water arriving through meltwaters that flow through thousands of miles of underground tunnels called karez, an ancient irrigation system, now slowly drying up.

GlacierHub recently reported on the severity of drought in Xinjiang, and it’s uncertain future. This Photo Friday view photos of the slowly disappearing glaciers. Read more here.

A view of snowcapped peaks in Xinjiang, Tianshan (Source: talent_show1992/Creative Commons).


The Tianshan No. 1 glacier is receding at least 30 feet each year. Scientists warn that the glacier— the source of the Urumqi River— may disappear in the next 50 years (Source: Remko Tanis/Flickr).


Scientist Li Zhongqin has studied the glaciers of Xinjiang for most of his life (Source: Rob Schmitz/NPR).


Image of the Tianshan Mountains (Source: travelingmipo/Creative Commons).


No.1 Glacier of Tianshan Mountain (Source:,

Roundup: New Purple Bacteria, Chilean GLOFs, and Glacier Flow Rates

Emerging from Glacier Permafrost: New Purple Bacteria found in Tianshan

From International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology: “A Gram-stain-negative, motile and rod-shaped bacterium, designated strain B2T, which can synthesize purple pigments of violacein and dexyoviolacein, was isolated from Tianshan glacier in Xinjiang, China…. Based on genomic relatedness, physiological, biochemical and chemotaxonomic data, strain B2T […] is considered to represent a novel species.”

Find out more about the discovery here.

New bacteria discovered in melted glacier permafrost in the Tianshan Mountains in western China (Source: Wang et al.).


Understanding GLOF Dynamics in Arid Andes of Chile

From Natural Hazards: “We study a remarkable GLOF triggered by the failure of a subglacial lake in the Manflas Valley, Arid Andes of Chile, in 1985 providing insights into the lake’s origin, clarifying the failure mechanism and modeling the GLOF event-related dynamics… We show that the failed lake (4 × 106 m3) formed in a low-slope (≤ 10°) area and that extreme (≥ 90th percentile) annual precipitation before the GLOF contributed to the lake filling and probably to the dam collapse.”

Check out more about what scientists have learned from the 1985 GLOF event here.

Manflas Valley, where a 1985 outburst flood devastated the region and the setting of a recent study about understanding the event (Source: Ricardo Guler/Flickr).


Exploring the Factors Behind Flow Rates in Greenland’s Exit Glaciers

From Science: “The largest uncertainty in ice sheet models used to predict future sea-level rise originates from our limited understanding of processes at the ice-bed interface… We find that this sliding relation does not apply to the 140 Greenland glaciers that we analyzed.”

Read more about this groundbreaking study here.

An exit glacier in Greenland (Source: mharoldsewell/Flickr).