Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 477–487 | Cite as

Lake dynamics and its relationship to climate change on the Tibetan Plateau over the last four decades

  • Siyang Dong
  • Fei Peng
  • Quangang You
  • Jian Guo
  • Xian Xue
Original Article


The high sensitivity of the Tibetan Plateau (TP) to global warming is ascribed not only to its high altitude and low temperature but also to the change in the components of water cycling, such as glaciers’ retreat, permafrost degradation, and lakes’ shrinkage or expansion. Among the components, change in lakes attracts more attention as lakes are crucial for local water management and are easier to monitor. But, how water cycling components respond to global change remains unclear, although they are crucial in understanding the regional environmental change. Lakes, glaciers, and permafrost data derived from meteorological records and remote sensing images were used to detect the change of the water environment on the TP from 1971 to 2013. The climate on TP changed toward a warm-humid condition in the last four decades. Three-quarters of the lakes were significantly expanded over the TP, and the summed area of all the lakes increased by 6061 km2 from 1975 to 2010. Panel regression showed that annual average air temperature (T), annual precipitation (P), and reference crop evapotranspiration (ET o ) regulate the change in lake surface area (LSA) on the entire TP. The change in LSA is more related to the change in P than in the other two factors, even in the catchment where lakes are recharged by water from glacier melting and permafrost degradation, especially in extremely arid and arid climate zones. Elevation and size affected the sensitivity of lakes to climate change with lakes in a high-elevation area more sensitive to T and small lakes more sensitive to T, P, and ET o . Warming-induced glacier’s retreat led to the significant lake expansion, while permafrost degradation might be responsible for the lake shrinkage in the seasonally frozen ground area due to the related cryogenic waterproof layer downward. Our results about the responses of lakes to climate change in different catchments were in accordance with the findings of previous studies about several typical lakes, which implied that overall response of all the lakes to climate change could be obtained by examining several typical lakes in the catchment level.


Anusplin interpolation Climate change Lake change Panel regression model Remote sensing Tibetan Plateau 



This research was financially supported by the “One Hundred Talents Program” of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Supplementary material

10113_2017_1211_Fig5_ESM.gif (215 kb)
Fig. S1

The distributions of lakes, meteorological stations, and catchments on the Tibetan Plateau. Catchment 1–13 represent: 1. Chiangtang Catchment; 2. Qaidam Basin; 3. Inland catchment near upstream areas of the Yangtze River; 4. Southern Tibet Inland Catchment; 5. Yellow River Catchment; 6. Yangtze River Catchment; 7. Yarlung Zangbo River Catchment; 8. Hala-Qinghai Lake Catchment; 9. Nujiang-Salween River Catchment; 10. Indus River Catchment; 11. Lantsang-Mekong River Catchment; 12. Dulong-Nmai Hka-Irrawaddy River Catchment; 13. Kunlun-Altun-Qilian Mountains Catchment. Inland catchments: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8. (GIF 214 kb)

10113_2017_1211_MOESM1_ESM.tif (2.7 mb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 2748 kb)
10113_2017_1211_Fig6_ESM.gif (154 kb)
Fig. S2

The distributions of climate zones, glaciers and frozen ground types across the Tibetan Plateau (GIF 154 kb)

10113_2017_1211_MOESM2_ESM.tif (1.4 mb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 1406 kb)
10113_2017_1211_Fig7_ESM.gif (25 kb)
Fig. S3

Statistics of lake number classified by catchment regionalization, climate zone, lake size, elevation, distance to glacier, and frozen ground type (GIF 25 kb)

10113_2017_1211_MOESM3_ESM.tif (2.9 mb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 2921 kb)
10113_2017_1211_MOESM4_ESM.docx (13 kb)
Supplement 1 The background of Tibetan Plateau climate characteristic (DOCX 13 kb)
10113_2017_1211_MOESM5_ESM.docx (15 kb)
Supplement 2 Details of lake classification (DOCX 15 kb)
10113_2017_1211_MOESM6_ESM.docx (62 kb)
Supplement 3 Details of calculation and statistics (DOCX 61 kb)
10113_2017_1211_MOESM7_ESM.docx (18 kb)
Table S1 The basic information of selected 79 meteorological stations on the Tibetan Plateau (DOCX 17 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and ResourcesChinese Academy of SciencesLanzhouChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.International platform for dryland research and education, arid land research centerTottori UniversityTottoriJapan

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