Understanding changes in the water budget driven by climate change in cryospheric-dominated watershed of the northeast Tibetan Plateau, China

Min Xu, Shichang Kang*, Xiaoming Wang, Nick Pepin, Hao Wu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

Glacial retreat and the thawing of permafrost due to climate warming have altered the hydrological cycle in cryospheric-dominated watersheds. In this study, we analysed the impacts of climate change on the water budget for the upstream of the Shule River Basin on the northeast Tibetan Plateau. The results showed that temperature and precipitation increased significantly during 1957–2010 in the study area. The hydrological cycle in the study area has intensified and accelerated under recent climate change. The average increasing rate of discharge in the upstream of the Shule River Basin was 7.9 × 10 6  m 3 /year during 1957–2010. As the mean annual glacier mass balance lost −62.4 mm/year, the impact of glacier discharge on river flow has increased, especially after the 2000s. The contribution of glacier melt to discharge was approximately 187.99 × 10 8  m 3 or 33.4% of the total discharge over the study period. The results suggested that the impact of warming overcome the effect of precipitation increase on run-off increase during the study period. The evapotranspiration (ET) increased during 1957–2010 with a rate of 13.4 mm/10 years. On the basis of water balance and the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment and the Global Land Data Assimilation System data, the total water storage change showed a decreasing trend, whereas groundwater increased dramatically after 2006. As permafrost has degraded under climate warming, surface water can infiltrate deep into the ground, thus changing both the watershed storage and the mechanisms of discharge generation. Both the change in terrestrial water storage and changes in groundwater have had a strong control on surface discharge in the upstream of the Shule River Basin. Future trends in run-off are forecasted based on climate scenarios. It is suggested that the impact of warming will overcome the effect of precipitation increase on run-off in the study area. Further studies such as this will improve understanding of water balance in cold high-elevation regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1040-1058
Number of pages19
JournalHydrological processes
Volume33
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2019

Keywords

  • climate change
  • cryosphere
  • effect
  • Tibetan plateau
  • water budget

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