Climate changes and its impact on tundra ecosystem in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, China
Alpine ecosystems in permafrost region are extremely sensitive to climate change. The headwater regions of Yangtze River and Yellow River of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau permafrost area were selected. Spatial-temporal shifts in the extent and distribution of tundra ecosystems were investigated for the period 1967–2000 by landscape ecological method and aerial photographs for 1967, and satellite remote sensing data (the Landsat’s TM) for 1986 and 2000. The relationships were analyzed between climate change and the distribution area variation of tundra ecosystems and between the permafrost change and tundra ecosystems. The responding model of tundra ecosystem to the combined effects of climate and permafrost changes was established by using statistic regression method, and the contribution of climate changes and permafrost variation to the degradation of tundra ecosystems was estimated. The regional climate exhibited a tendency towards significant warming and desiccation with the air temperature increased by 0.4–0.67°C/10a and relative stable precipitation over the last 45 years. Owing to the climate continuous warming, the intensity of surface heat source (HI) increased at the average of 0.45 W/m2 per year, the difference of surface soil temperature and air temperature (DT) increased at the range of 4.1°C–4.5°C, and the 20-cm depth soil temperature within the active layer increased at the range of 1.1°C–1.4°C. The alpine meadow and alpine swamp meadow were more sensitive to permafrost changes than alpine steppe. The area of alpine swamp meadow decreased by 13.6–28.9%, while the alpine meadow area decreased by 13.5–21.3% from 1967 to 2000. The contributions of climate change to the degradation of the alpine meadow and alpine swamp was 58–68% and 59–65% between 1967 and 2000. The synergic effects of climate change and permafrost variation were the major drivers for the observed degradation in tundra ecosystems of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau.