Meteorological factors driving glacial till variation and the associated periglacial debris flows in Tianmo Valley, south-eastern Tibetan Plateau
Abstract. Meteorological studies have indicated that high alpine environments are strongly affected by climate warming, and periglacial debris flows are frequent in deglaciated regions. The combination of rainfall and air temperature controls the initiation of periglacial debris flows, and the addition of meltwater due to higher air temperatures enhances the complexity of the triggering mechanism compared to that of storm-induced debris flows. On the south-eastern Tibetan Plateau, where temperate glaciers are widely distributed, numerous periglacial debris flows have occurred over the past 100 years, but none occurred in the Tianmo watershed until 2007. In 2007 and 2010, three large-scale debris flows occurred in the Tianmo Valley. In this study, these three debris flow events were chosen to analyse the impacts of the annual meteorological conditions, including the antecedent air temperature and meteorological triggers. The remote sensing images and field measurements of the adjacent glacier suggested that sharp glacier retreats occurred in the 1 to 2 years preceding the events, which coincided with spikes in the mean annual air temperature. Glacial till changes providing enough active sediment driven by a prolonged increase in the air temperature are a prerequisite of periglacial debris flows. Different factors can trigger periglacial debris flows, and they may include high-intensity rainfall, as in the first and third debris flows, or continuous, long-term increases in air temperature, as in the second debris flow event.