Warming and drying trends on the Tibetan Plateau (1971–2005)

Abstract

Annual and seasonal trends in maximum and minimum temperatures, precipitation and vapour pressure deficit (VPD) were examined with the goal of understanding trends in temperature and moisture across the Tibetan Plateau, using meteorological data (1971–2005) collected at 63 stations. Trends in pan evaporation (PE; 1971–2001, 68 stations) and runoff (1971–2002) in the headwater of the Yellow River were also analysed. Positive trends in maximum and minimum temperatures were observed across the Tibetan Plateau. The highest increases were observed during winter, with results from the majority of stations statistically significant at the 95% level. A decrease trend in diurnal temperature range (DTR) was also observed. Trends in annual and seasonal precipitation and VPD were positive, while the trend in PE was negative. However, the increase in precipitation was not as pronounced as the increase in temperature. Although PE decreased during the time series, actual evaporation probably increased because of the warming across the Tibetan Plateau, where the annual potential water loss measured as PE is three to four times the annual water supply by precipitation. Warming was expected to increase evapotranspiration, causing more water vapour to escape into the atmosphere, thus counteracting or even exceeding the slight increase in precipitation. The increases in annual and seasonal VPD trends indicated a drying tendency and were further substantiated by the observed decrease in runoff in the headwater catchment of the Yellow River. The results provided insight into recent climatic changes across the Tibetan Plateau.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and Dr. Li for his language revision. The meteorological data used in this study were collected from the Meteorological Information Center (CMA), which is highly appreciated.

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Correspondence to Hong Xie.

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Xie, H., Ye, J., Liu, X. et al. Warming and drying trends on the Tibetan Plateau (1971–2005). Theor Appl Climatol 101, 241–253 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00704-009-0215-9

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Keywords

  • Tibetan Plateau
  • Vapour Pressure Deficit
  • Negative Trend
  • Diurnal Temperature Range
  • Qaidam Basin