Dissolved organic carbon in glaciers of the southeastern Tibetan Plateau: Insights into concentrations and possible sources

Yulan Zhang, Shichang Kang, Gang Li, Tanguang Gao, Pengfei Chen, Xiaofei Li, Yajun Liu, Zhaofu Hu, Shiwei Sun, Junming Guo, Kun Wang, Xintong Chen, Mika Sillanpää

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) released from glaciers has an important role in the biogeochemistry of glacial ecosystems. This study focuses on DOC from glaciers of the southeastern Tibetan Plateau, where glaciers are experiencing rapid shrinkage. We found that concentrations of DOC in snowpits (0.16±0.054 μg g-1), aged snow (0.16±0.048 μg g-1), and bare ice (0.18±0.082 μg g-1) were similar across the southeastern Tibetan Plateau, but were slightly lower than those in other glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau. Vertical variations of DOC, particulate organic carbon, black carbon, and total nitrate in snowpit showed no systematic variations in the studied glaciers, with high values of DOC occurring in the ice or dusty layers. We estimated the export of DOC and particulate organic carbon from glaciers to be 1.96 ±0.66 Gg yr-1 and 5.88±2.15 Gg yr-1 in this region, respectively, indicating that organic carbon released from glacier meltwater may be affecting downstream ecosystems. Potential sources of the air masses arriving at the southeastern Tibetan glaciers include South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, and northwest China. Emissions from biomass burning of South Asia played an important role in the deposition of DOC to the glacier, which can be evidenced by backward trajectories and fire spot distributions from MODIS and CALIPSO images. Our findings suggest that anthropogenic aerosols contribute abundant DOC to glaciers on the southeastern Tibetan Plateau. The pronounced rate of glacial melting in the region may be delivering increased quantities of relic DOC to downstream rivers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0205414
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Multidisciplinary


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