Paleoglaciological reconstructions for the Tibetan Plateau during the last glacial cycle: evaluating numerical ice sheet simulations driven by GCM-ensembles



The Tibetan Plateau is a topographic feature of extraordinary dimension and has an important impact on regional and global climate. However, the glacial history of the Tibetan Plateau is more poorly constrained than that of most other formerly glaciated regions such as in North America and Eurasia. On the basis of some field evidence it has been hypothesized that the Tibetan Plateau was covered by an ice sheet during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Abundant field- and chronological evidence for a predominance of local valley glaciation during the past 300,000 calendar years (that is, 300 ka), coupled to an absence of glacial landforms and sediments in extensive areas of the plateau, now refute this concept. This, furthermore, calls into question previous ice sheet modeling attempts which generally arrive at ice volumes considerably larger than allowed for by field evidence. Surprisingly, the robustness of such numerical ice sheet model results has not been widely queried, despite potentially important climate ramifications.We simulated the growth and decay of ice on the Tibetan Plateau during the last 125 ka in response to a large ensemble of climate forcings (90 members) derived from Global Circulation Models (GCMs), using a similar 3D thermomechanical ice sheet model as employed in previous studies. The numerical results include as extreme end members as an ice-free Tibetan Plateau and a plateau-scale ice sheet comparable, in volume, to the contemporary Greenland ice sheet. We further demonstrate that numerical simulations that acceptably conform to published reconstructions of Quaternary ice extent on the Tibetan Plateau cannot be achieved with the employed stand-alone ice sheet model when merely forced by paleoclimates derived from currently available GCMs. Progress is, however, expected if future investigations employ ice sheet models with higher resolution, bidirectional ice sheet-atmosphere feedbacks, improved treatment of the surface mass balance, and regional climate data and climate reconstructions.

Quaternary Science Reviews 30 (1-2), 248-267 (2011).

Last modified: 2010-12-27