Influence of microtopography on active layer thaw depths in Qilian Mountain, northeastern Tibetan Plateau

  • Tanguang GaoEmail author
  • Tingjun Zhang
  • Xudong Wan
  • Shichang Kang
  • Mika Sillanpää
  • Yanmei Zheng
  • Lin Cao
Original Article


Climate warming over the Tibetan Plateau has been thickening the active layer, the most significant indicator of the permafrost system. This study evaluates the influence of microtopography on active layer thaw depth in recent years at Eboling basin of the eastern Qilian Mountain, northeastern Tibetan Plateau. Thaw depths were measured at microtopographic levels in 2012, 2013, and 2014, respectively. Watershed-scale sampling was used to estimate the influence of various morphologies on the active layer, while a second sampling scheme to examine the variations in the frost table height along six short transects. A third sampling scheme used spatial autocorrelation analysis in a regular grid at 10 × 10 m intervals. The results documented that microtopography (elevation, microrelief, surface configuration, and slope) played a pivotal role on the active layer thickness of mountainous permafrost in the study area. Active layer became thinner in depressions, which was contrary to most of Arctic sites. Spatial autocorrelation analysis elucidated that the dominant topographic factors controlled the changes of active layer thickness. These factors exerted the majority of control over the spatial variations of the active layer. The results can help researchers or engineers to roughly estimate the probable influence of micromorphology on the changes in thickness of the active layer in mountainous permafrost regions in the Tibetan Plateau.


Active layer thickness Mountain permafrost Microtopography Tibetan plateau 



This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (91325202; 41501063), and the Global Change Research Program of China (2013CBA01802). We appreciate the reviewers, whose valuable comments were helpful in improving the manuscript. We also thank the staff of Heihe Station for their observations.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tanguang Gao
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Tingjun Zhang
    • 2
  • Xudong Wan
    • 2
  • Shichang Kang
    • 1
    • 3
  • Mika Sillanpää
    • 4
  • Yanmei Zheng
    • 5
  • Lin Cao
    • 2
  1. 1.Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research InstituteChinese Academy of SciencesLanzhouChina
  2. 2.College of Earth Environmental SciencesLanzhou UniversityLanzhouChina
  3. 3.CAS Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth SciencesChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.Laboratory of Green ChemistryLappeenranta University of TechnologyMikkeliFinland
  5. 5.College of Computer Science and TechnologyHenan Polytechnic UniversityJiaozuoChina

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