Glaciers In Mongolia's Gobi Desert Actually Shrank In The Last Ice Age

Friends of Jigjidsurengiin Batbaatar descend this mountain after helping to install a weather station. Jigjidsurengiin Batbaatar/University of Washington

Madison Dapcevich 07 Mar 2018, 22:05

"In some of the Gobi mountains, the largest glaciers didn't happen during the last ice age," said Batbaatar. "Some of these glaciers were starving for precipitation then. Our measurements show that they actually shrank as cold, dry conditions of the ice age became more intense. Then they grew when the warming climate of the Holocene brought more moist air, feeding the glaciers with more snow."

The study is the first to date ancient glaciers in the high mountains after political changes in Central Asia allowed more research. It confirms the “starving glacier” theory, which suggests that in very cold and dry environments where rain and snow are scarce, glaciers are less sensitive to temperature shifts and are more influenced by precipitation levels.

Turns out, glaciers don’t behave the same across the world.

“Glaciers growing in cold, arid, desert mountains may be out of sync with those in wetter, warmer environments such as the Alps," said co-author Alan Gillespie."[These] findings move us toward a more complete understanding of how glaciers advance and retreat in response to climatic fluctuations."

Jigjidsurengiin Batbaatar chisels rock from the surface of a boulder dropped by a glacier in the Gobi-Altai range in Mongolia. The elemental traces of exposure to cosmic rays show that this glacier reached its maximum size 7,500 years ago, much later than the last ice age. Alan Gillespie/University of Washington
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