Evolutions of water stable isotopes and the contributions of cryosphere to the alpine river on the Tibetan Plateau

  • Yuzhong Yang
  • Qingbai WuEmail author
  • Huijun Jin
Original Article


The significant changes of cryosphere on the Tibetan Plateau (TP) are an important cause of concern for the huge population in Asia which depends on the glacier-permafrost feed rivers. Up to now, little is known about the response of runoff to the cryospheric changes under a warming climate. Taking an example of a typical alpine river (hereafter named KLR River) in Kunlun Mountains Pass on the TP to investigate the hydrological processes and quantify the potential recharge sources using stable isotopes and electrical conductivities. The results showed significantly temporal variations in isotopes of precipitation and river water. Deviations in the precipitation isotopes indicated that precipitation in Kunlun Mountains Pass during summer months mainly originated from local recycled moisture and slightly influenced by monsoon. The KLR river was separated into three hydrological components which include precipitation, meltwater of glacier and meltwater of subsurface ground ice. On average, the meltwater of glacier accounted for 56.64 % of total flow, whereas the meltwater of subsurface ground ice contributed 37.44 % and only 5.92 % was supplied by precipitation. Evidently, the contributions of glacier and thawing permafrost are up to as high as 94 %. The cryosphere played a crucial role on the hydrological cycle on the TP which would be important to understand the water resource distribution in permafrost regions on the TP under the global warming.


Stable isotopes Permafrost Glacier Alpine river Hydrograph separation Tibetan Plateau 



This work was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences Key Research Program (Grant No. KZZD-EW-13), and the Research Fund of State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soils Engineering (Grant No. SKLFSE-ZQ-34).


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soil Engineering, Cold and Arid regions Environmental and Engineering Research InstituteChinese Academy of SciencesLanzhouChina

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