Coherent lake growth on the central Tibetan Plateau since the 1970s: Characterization and attribution

Yanbin Lei, Tandong Yao, Broxton W. Bird, Kun Yang, Jianqing Zhai, Yongwei Sheng

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Although lakes on the central Tibetan Plateau (TP) expanded significantly in recent decades, causes for the lake growth still have not been well addressed. Based on remote sensing and GIS techniques together with bathymetric survey and water balance analysis, we show how climatic changes and glacier mass loss have influenced the inland lake dynamics on the central TP. Our results show that six closed lakes (Siling Co, Nam Co, Bam Co, Pung Co, Darab Co and Zige Tangco) expanded by 20.2% in area, by 8.7. m in water depth, and by 37.7. Gt in the total storage between 1976 and 2010, with a remarkable acceleration after 1999. The growth rate of lake area, water level and storage between 1999 and 2010 was 5.0, 3.6 and 4.8 times, respectively, than that between 1976 and 1999, corresponding well with the significant climatic changes in the late 1990s. Water balance analysis shows that increased precipitation and runoff, and decreased lake evaporation were the main causes for the coherent lake growth and could contribute by about 70% of total increase in lake storage. Based on modern mass balance results , glacier mass loss between 1999 and 2010 was estimated to contribute to the lake level rise of the three glacial-fed lakes, Siling Co, Nam Co and Pung Co, by ~1.0. m, ~0.7. m and ~1.1. m, respectively, accounting for 11.7%, 28.7% and 11.4% of the total lake level rise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-67
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Mar 13 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank NASA for providing the Landsat images in this study. We also thank Dr. Wu Y. for providing the lake area of Nam Co, Li J. for providing some of the lake boundaries and Zhang G. for providing ICEsat data. We are also in debt to Prof. Zhu L. and Su F. for their helpful suggestions. The research was supported by NSFC Project (41190081, 41101062), the CAS (External Cooperation Program GJHZ0960, SAFEA International Partnership Program for Creative Research Teams KZCX2-YW-T11), Tibetan Plateau Research Program of China MOST (XDB03030207), and USGS Landsat Science Team Program (G12PC00071).

Copyright 2013 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Climatic change
  • Glacier mass loss
  • Lake growth
  • Lake level variation
  • Tibetan Plateau

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