Topographic and climatic controls on paleoglaciation patterns across the Tian Shan and Altai Mountains, Central Asia
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Reconstructing spatial patterns of the extents and dynamics of paleoglaciers across Central Asia is key in understanding the mechanisms of global environmental change. The Tian Shan and Altai Mountains are located in the continental interior of Eurasia, at the confluence of several major climate systems. In order to test hypothesized patterns in paleoglacier extent, and to test the role of paleoclimate and mountain topography in modulating the evolution of these glacial systems, we perform a domain-wide terrain analysis. We first divide the Tian Shan and the Altai Mountains into six physiographic regions delineated by major drainage divides and outlining generalised climate zones. Thereafter we mine published datasets on the distribution of glaciers and glacial landforms, calculate their area-elevation distributions (hypsometry), and extract present-day regional equilibrium line altitudes (ELAs) and long-term average ELAs (paleo-ELAs). We show that the use of glacial landform hypsometry is an effective tool to quantify broad-scale paleoglaciation patterns and find that there is a regional variability in glacier extents across the Tian Shan and Altai Mountains. Reconstructed ELAs show pronounced spatial gradients; increasing ELAs from northern to southern Tian Shan, and increasing ELAs from the northern to both the southeastern and southwestern Altai Mountains. In contrast, maximum paleoglaciation patterns and paleo-ELAs were more uniform across the two mountain systems, with inter-regional topographic variability influencing moraine distributions and thus complicating regional paleo-ELA determinations. Because estimated paleo-ELAs were relatively uniform across the Tian Shan and Altai Mountains, the paleo-ELA lowering were most pronounced in the more continental southern and eastern regions. Our current data is insufficient to explain whether this observation is the result of a different regional paleoclimatic regime than today, or if paleoglaciers responded dynamically different to a paleoclimate forcing of the same magnitude. Our ELA reconstructions also lack temporal constraints, so we furthermore propose that future studies systematically compare hypsometry-derived ELA reconstructions with those stemming from surface energy mass balance models, other proxy records (i.e. lake- and ice core records), and from chronologically constrained ice-marginal moraines.
Tian Shan, Altai Mountains, paleoglaciology, glacial landform mapping, terrain analysis, glacier equilibrium line altitudes (ELAs)
Research subject Physical Geography
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-134746OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-134746DiVA: diva2:1037715
ProjectsCentral Asia Paleoglaciology Project (CAPP)
FunderSwedish Research Council, No. 2011-4892