Climatic Change

, Volume 147, Issue 1–2, pp 149–163 | Cite as

Quantifying recent precipitation change and predicting lake expansion in the Inner Tibetan Plateau

  • Kun Yang
  • Hui Lu
  • Siyu Yue
  • Guoqing Zhang
  • Yanbin Lei
  • Zhu La
  • Wei Wang


Lake expansion since the middle of the 1990s is one of the most outstanding environmental change events in the Tibetan Plateau (TP). This expansion has mainly occurred in the Inner TP, a vast endorheic basin with an area of about 708,000 km2 and containing about 780 lakes larger than 1 km2. The total lake area of the Inner TP has increased from 24,930 km2 in 1995 to 33,741 km2 in 2015. The variability of the lake area in the coming decades is crucial for infrastructure planning and ecology policy for this remote region. In this study, a lake mass balance model was developed to describe the lake area response to climate change. First, the model was used to inversely estimate the change in precipitation from the change in lake volume. The result shows that precipitation has increased by about 21 ± 7% since the middle of the 1990s, as seen in GPCC global data set. Then, the lake size in the coming two decades was predicted by the model driven with either current climate or a projected future climate, showing the lake area would expand continuously, but at a lower rate than before. Both predictions yield a total lake area of 36150 ± 500 km2 in 2025 and a rise of average lake level by about 6.6 ± 0.3 m from 1995 to 2025. However, the two predictions become disparate in the second decade (2026–2035), as the future climate is more warming and wetting than the current climate. It is noted that the prediction of lake expansion is robust for the entire inner TP lake system but not always applicable to individual subregions or specific lakes due to their spatiotemporal heterogeneity.



The authors sincerely thank Dr. Pauline Lovell who provides professional language edition of this manuscript during his visit to Tsinghua University. Comments from three reviewers are very helpful for improving the quality of this work.

Funding information

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41325019, 91537210), the International Partnership Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant No. 131C11KYSB20160061), and the Strategic Priority Research Program (B) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant No. XDB03030300).


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Earth System Modeling, Department of Earth System ScienceTsinghua UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.CAS Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth SystemBeijingChina
  3. 3.Key Laboratory of Tibetan Environment Changes and Land Surface Processes, Institute of Tibetan Plateau ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.The Joint Center for Global Change StudiesBeijingChina
  5. 5.Changjiang Institute of Survey, Planning, Design and ResearchWuhanChina

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