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The cause of rapid lake expansion in the Tibetan Plateau: climate wetting or warming?

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Endorheic lake dynamics in the Tibetan Plateau (TP), as reflected in changes in water level and/or surface area, are sensitive indicator of regional hydrology that is closely related to both climate change and cryosphere hydrology. Since the late 1990s, most closed lakes in the interior TP expanded and deepened dramatically, in sharp contrast with lake shrinkage in the southern TP. Although some evidence shows that glacier melting and permafrost thawing within some lakes may influence lake level changes, they cannot explain the overall lake expansion, especially for lakes without glacier supply. More and more evidence from lake water balance modeling indicated that the overall lake expansion across the interior TP may be mainly attributed to a significant increase in precipitation and associated runoff. The positive lake water budget is also consistent with regional climate changes (e.g., increase in water vapor content and air convection in the interior TP), with relevant changes in large‐scale atmospheric circulation to be investigated. Further studies are needed to quantify the contribution of each component to lake water budgets and the associated climate change.

Total mass changes derived from GRACE data between 2003 and 2015 (after Yi et al.). The squares represent the regions where GRACE data is extracted in Northwestern (NWTP), Northern (NTP), and central TP (CTP) in Figure 3. Lake level changes of the selected lakes with both ICEsat and Cryosat‐2 data are shown in Figure 3.
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Detailed lake area changes in the six subregions (the left) versus normalized cumulative precipitation recorded at nearby meteorological stations (the right, blue‐green area), relative to 1976–1990 (after Lei et al.). The selected lakes in each region are also shown in Figure .
[ Normal View | Magnified View ]
Total mass changes versus lake level changes in CTP, NTP, and NWTP between 2003 and 2015. The selected lakes in each region are marked in Figure . ICEsat (2003–2009) and Cryosat‐2 (2010–2014) altimetry data are combined to depict lake level changes.
[ Normal View | Magnified View ]
Changes in lake area in the interior and southern TP between 1976 and 2010 (after Lei et al.).
[ Normal View | Magnified View ]

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Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems
Science of Water > Stocks and Flows of Water
Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change

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