Runoff dynamics of the upper Selenge basin, a major water source for Lake Baikal, under a warming climate

Abstract

The Selenge basin contributes approximately 50% of the total inflow into Lake Baikal and is thus of high significance for the regional hydrological regime. Our study was conducted in the upper reaches of the basin, where the Selenge river and its tributaries flow through the Mongolian forest-steppe. Monthly and maximum runoff, precipitation, and air temperature data from 12 gauging stations collected between 1978 and 2015 were analyzed to characterize the hydrological regime response to climate change. Concomitant with rising temperatures and increased potential evaporation, river runoff in the Mongolian part of the Selenge basin has decreased from the first interval (1978–1995) of our study period compared with the consecutive interval from 1996 to 2015. The decrease in runoff throughout the study area was most likely caused by an increase in potential evapotranspiration (and not reduced precipitation or land use changes) for both summer rainfall- and snowmelt-dominated rivers. Annual maximum runoff has also strongly decreased suggesting that reduced flooding is a contemporary threat for Mongolia’s riverine ecosystems, probably causing the replacement of wetland and mesic habitats.

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Funding

This work was funded through the National Science Foundation of Mongolia and the National University of Mongolia (P2017-2517).

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Correspondence to Nergui Soninkhishig.

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Zorigt, M., Battulga, G., Sarantuya, G. et al. Runoff dynamics of the upper Selenge basin, a major water source for Lake Baikal, under a warming climate. Reg Environ Change 19, 2609–2619 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-019-01564-x

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Keywords

  • River runoff
  • Global warming
  • Snow and rain domination
  • Flooding
  • Central Asia