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Extensive and drastically different alpine lake changes on Asia's high plateaus during the past four decades

Journal article
Authors Guoqing Zhang
Tandong Yao
Shilong Piao
Tobias Bolch
Hongjie Xie
Deliang Chen
Yanhong Gao
Catherine M. O'Reilly
C. K. Shum
Kun Yang
Shuang Yi
Yanbin Lei
Weicai Wang
You He
Kun Shang
Xiankun Yang
Hongbo Zhang
Published in Geophysical Research Letters
Volume 44
Issue 1
Pages 252–260
ISSN 0094-8276
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Pages 252–260
Language en
Links dx.doi.org10.1002/2016GL072033
Keywords Tibetan Plateau;Mongolian Plateau;lake change;inflection point;cryosphere
Subject categories Earth and Related Environmental Sciences


Asia's high plateaus are sensitive to climate change and have been experiencing rapid warming over the past few decades. We found 99 new lakes and extensive lake expansion on the Tibetan Plateau during the last four decades, 1970–2013, due to increased precipitation and cryospheric contributions to its water balance. This contrasts with disappearing lakes and drastic shrinkage of lake areas on the adjacent Mongolian Plateau: 208 lakes disappeared and 75% of the remaining lakes have shrunk. We detected a statistically significant coincidental timing of lake area changes in both plateaus, associated with the climate regime shift that occurred during 1997/1998. This distinct change in 1997/1998 is thought to be driven by large-scale atmospheric circulation changes in response to climate warming. Our findings reveal that these two adjacent plateaus have been changing in opposite directions in response to climate change. These findings shed light on the complex role of the regional climate and water cycles, and provide useful information for ecological and water resource planning in these fragile landscapes.

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