Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 309–322 | Cite as

Thermal dynamics of the permafrost active layer under increased precipitation at the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

  • De-sheng Li
  • Zhi WenEmail author
  • Qian-gong Cheng
  • Ai-guo Xing
  • Ming-li Zhang
  • An-yuan Li


Precipitation has a significant influence on the hydro-thermal state of the active layer in permafrost regions, which disturbs the surface energy balance, carbon flux, ecosystem, hydrological cycles and landscape processes. To better understand the hydro-thermal dynamics of active layer and the interactions between rainfall and permafrost, we applied the coupled heat and mass transfer model for soil-plant-atmosphere system into high-altitude permafrost regions in this study. Meteorological data, soil temperature, heat flux and moisture content from different depths within the active layer were used to calibrate and validate this model. Thereafter, the precipitation was increased to explore the effect of recent climatic wetting on the thermal state of the active layer. The primary results demonstrate that the variation of active layer thickness under the effect of short-term increased precipitation is not obvious, while soil surface heat flux can show the changing trends of thermal state in active layer, which should not be negligible. An increment in year-round precipitation leads to a cooling effect on active layers in the frozen season, i.e. verifying the insulating effect of “snow cover”. However, in the thawed season, the increased precipitation created a heating effect on active layers, i.e. facilitating the degradation of permafrost. The soil thermal dynamic in single precipitation event reveals that the precipitation event seems to cool the active layer, while compared with the results under increased precipitation, climatic wetting trend has a different influence on the permafrost evolution.


Active layer Precipitation Qinghai-Tibet plateau Hydro-thermal dynamic 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



The author would like to thank the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41771073, 41871061, 41690144 and 41530639), the Major Program of Bureau of International Cooperation, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (131B62KYSB20170012) and Open Fund of State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soil Engineering (Grant No. SKLFSE201712) for financially supporting this research.


  1. Anisimov OA, Shiklomanov NI, Nelson FE (1997) Global warming and active-layer thickness: results from transient general circulation models. Global and Planetary Change 15 (3-4): 61–77. Google Scholar
  2. Banimahd SA, Zand-Parsa S (2013) Simulation of evaporation, coupled liquid water, water vapor and heat transport through the soil medium. Agricultural Water Management 130: 168–177. Google Scholar
  3. Chung CTY, Power SB (2016) Modelled impact of global warming on ENSO-driven precipitation changes in the tropical Pacific. Climate Dynamics 47(3-4): 1303–1323. Google Scholar
  4. Luetschg M, Haeberli W (2005) Permafrost evolution in the Swiss Alps in a changing climate and the role of the snow cover. Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift - Norwegian Journal of Geography 59(2): 78–83. Google Scholar
  5. Hollesen J, Elberling B, Jansson PE (2011) Future active layer dynamics and carbon dioxide production from thawing permafrost layers in Northeast Greenland. Global Change Biology 17(2): 911–926. Google Scholar
  6. Hu G, Zhao L, Wu X, et al. (2015) Modeling permafrost properties in the Qinghai-Xizang (Tibet) Plateau. Science China Earth Sciences 58(12): 2309–2326. Google Scholar
  7. Iijima Y, Fedorov AN, Park H, et al. (2010) Abrupt increases in soil temperatures following increased precipitation in a permafrost region, central Lena River basin, Russia. Permafrost & Periglacial Processes 21(1): 30–41. Google Scholar
  8. Jansson PE (1991) Simulation model for soil water and heat conditions. Description of the SOIL model. Communications Division of Agricultural Hydrotechnics Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.Google Scholar
  9. Jansson PE, Karlberg L (2004) Theory and practice of coupled heat and mass transfer model for soil-plant-atmosphere system (In Chinese). In: Zhang HJ, Cheng JH, Wang W. Translation. Beijing: Science Press.Google Scholar
  10. Jansson PE, Moon D (2001) A coupled model of water, heat and mass transfer using object orientation to improve flexibility and functionality. Environmental Modelling and Software 16: 37–46Google Scholar
  11. Jin H, Chang X, Wang S (2007) Evolution of permafrost on the Qinghai‐Xizang (Tibet) Plateau since the end of the late Pleistocene. Journal of Geophysical Research Earth Surface 112(F2).
  12. Johnsson H, Jansson PE (1993) SOILN model -Technical description of soilprocesses and the simple plant uptake function. Department of Soil Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala.Google Scholar
  13. Kokelj SV, Tunnicliffe J, Lacelle D, et al. (2015) Increased precipitation drives mega slump development and destabilization of ice-rich permafrost terrain, northwestern Canada. Global & Planetary Change 129: 56–68. Google Scholar
  14. Koven CD, Ringeval B, Friedlingstein P, et al. (2011) Permafrost carbon-climate feedbacks accelerate global warming. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108(36): 14769–14774. Google Scholar
  15. Kroener E, Vallati A, Bittelli M (2014) Numerical simulation of coupled heat, liquid water and water vapor in soils for heat dissipation of underground electrical power cables. Applied Thermal Engineering 70(1): 510–523. Google Scholar
  16. Ling F, Zhang T (2003) Impact of the timing and duration of seasonal snow cover on the active layer and permafrost in the Alaskan Arctic. Permafrost & Periglacial Processes 14(2): 141–150. Google Scholar
  17. Ma W, Liu D, Wu Q (2008) Monitoring and analysis of embankment deformation in permafrost regions of Qinghai- Tibet Railway. Rock & Soil Mechanics 29(3): 571–579. (In Chinese with English abstract) Google Scholar
  18. Nelson F, Shiklomanov N, Hinkel K, et al. (2004) The Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM) Workshop and THE CALM II Program. Polar Geography 28(4): 253–266. Google Scholar
  19. Richards LA (1931) Capillary conduction of liquids through porous Mediums. Physics 1(5): 318–333. Google Scholar
  20. Rockström J, Jansson PE, Barron J (1998) Seasonal rainfall partitioning under runon and runoff conditions on sandy soil in Niger. On-farm measurements and water balance modelling. Journal of Hydrology 210(1-4): 68–92. Google Scholar
  21. Schuur EA, Mcguire AD, Schädel C, et al. (2015) Climate change and the permafrost carbon feedback. Nature 520(7546): 171–179. Google Scholar
  22. Stendel M, Christensen JH (2002) Impact of global warming on permafrost conditions in a coupled GCM. Geophysical Research Letters 29(13): 10-1-10-4.
  23. Stieglitz M, Déry SJ, Romanovsky VE, et al. (2003) The role of snow cover in the warming of arctic permafrost. Geophysical Research Letters 30(13): 1721. Google Scholar
  24. Timlin DJ, Pachepsky Y, Acock BA, et al. (2002) Error analysis of soil temperature simulations using measured and estimated hourly weather data with 2DSOIL. Agricultural Systems 72(3): 215–239. Google Scholar
  25. Utsumi N, Seto S, Kanae S, et al. (2011) Does higher surface temperature intensify extreme precipitation? Geophysical Research Letters 38(16): 239–255. Google Scholar
  26. Wen Z, Niu F, Yu Q, et al. (2014) The role of rainfall in the thermal-moisture dynamics of the active layer at Beiluhe of Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. Environmental Earth Sciences 71(3): 1195–1204. Google Scholar
  27. Wu Q, Hou Y, Yun H, et al. (2015) Changes in active-layer thickness and near-surface permafrost between 2002 and 2012 in alpine ecosystems, Qinghai–Xizang (Tibet) Plateau, China. Global & Planetary Change 124: 149–155. Google Scholar
  28. Yang M, Yao T, Gou X, et al. (2008) Precipitation distribution along the Qinghai-Xizang (Tibetan) Highway, Summer 1998. Arctic Antarctic & Alpine Research 40(4): 761–769.;2 Google Scholar
  29. Zhang M, Wen Z, Xue K, et al. (2016) A coupled model for liquid water, water vapor and heat transport of saturated–unsaturated soil in cold regions: model formulation and verification. Environmental Earth Sciences 75: 701. Google Scholar
  30. Zhang T. (2005) Influence of the seasonal snow cover on the ground thermal regime: An overview. Reviews of Geophysics 43(4):RG4002. Google Scholar
  31. Zhang T, Barry RG, Haeberli W (2001) Numerical simulations of the influence of the seasonal snow cover on the occurrence of permafrost at high latitudes. Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift - Norwegian Journal of Geography 55(4): 261–266. Google Scholar
  32. Zhao L, Sheng Y, Wu T, et al. (2013) Permafrost Distribution and Thermal Dynamics over the Tibetan Plateau, China. AGU Spring Meeting. AGU Spring Meeting Abstract, 2013.Google Scholar
  33. Zhou J, Kinzelbach W, Cheng G, et al. (2013) Monitoring and modeling the influence of snow pack and organic soil on a permafrost active layer, Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau of China. Cold Regions Science & Technology 90-91: 38–52. Google Scholar
  34. Zhou Z, Yi S, Chen J, et al. (2017) Responses of alpine grassland to climate warming and permafrost thawing in two basins with different precipitation regimes on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateaus. Arctic Antarctic & Alpine Research 47(1): 125–131. Google Scholar
  35. Zhu X, Wu T, Li R, et al. (2017) Impacts of summer extreme precipitation events on the hydrothermal dynamics of the active layer in the Tanggula permafrost region on the Qinghai ‐ Tibet Plateau. Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres. 122(21): 11, 549–11, 567. Google Scholar
  36. Zhu Z, Li Y, Xue C (2011) Changing tendency of precipitation in permafrost regions along Qinghai-Tibet railway during last thirty years. Journal of Glaciology & Geocryology 33: 846–850. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  37. Zimov SA, Schuur EA, Chapin FS (2006) Climate change. Permafrost and the global carbon budget. Science 312(5780): 1612–1613. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Ocean EngineeringShanghai Jiao Tong UniversityShanghaiChina
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soil EngineeringNorthwest Institute of Eco-Environmental and ResourcesLanzhouChina
  3. 3.Department of Geological EngineeringSouthwest Jiaotong UniversityChengduChina
  4. 4.Department of Civil EngineeringLanzhou University of TechnologyLanzhouChina
  5. 5.Department of Civil EngineeringShaoxing UniversityShaoxingChina

Personalised recommendations