Radial growth characteristics of a high-elevation shrub species, sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), were investigated at four sites in a river valley at altitudes ranging from 3,333 to 3,820 m a.s.l. close to the terminus of the July First Glacier in the western Qilian Mountains of northwestern China. Radial growth of the sea buckthorn was significantly and positively correlated with the mean monthly temperature in June of the current growing season. Based on the fact that fluctuations in the shrub's radial growth and the glacier's equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) are affected by climatic variables, a tree-ring width chronology of the four sites was used to reconstruct the ELA from 1950 to 2003. The resulting ELA model explained more than 55.3% of the variance in the ELA of the July First Glacier series. On a decadal time scale, the cumulative-departure curve of the reconstructed ELA series showed an increasing trend from the 1950s to the mid-1960s, followed by a descending trend from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. The ELA appears to have remained stable from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, but has displayed dramatic variations during the past decade.
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