PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2018, Vol. 37 ›› Issue (2): 214-223.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2018.02.004

• Special Column: Young Geographer Forum • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Changes in lakes on the Tibetan Plateau observed from satellite data and their responses to climate variations

Guoqing ZHANG()   

  1. Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
  • Received:2017-09-25 Revised:2018-01-29 Online:2018-02-28 Published:2018-02-28
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41301063, No.41571068


The Tibetan Plateau (TP) is located in the southwest of China and central Asia, with a mean elevation higher than 4000 m and area of 3×106 km2. It is named "the roof of the world". The TP and surrounding areas together is also called "the Third Pole". The TP has 1200 lakes greater than 1 km2 in area, which accounts for approximately 50% of the total number and area of lakes in China. It is the sources of the Yellow River, the Yangtze River, the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, and the Mekong, and therefor known as "Asia's water tower". In the past several decades, the TP experienced a faster warming than other regions in the world. The climate of the TP is also getting wetting. Lakes are indicators of climate change. The TP has the dense distribution of lakes with little disturbance of human activities. The utilization of multi-sensors’ data has provided a useful tool to monitor lake change in the remote TP. Several studies of lake changes have been conducted focusing on the following scientific questions: (1) how many lakes are on the TP and what are the spatial and temporal changes of the number, area, and abundance of these lakes? (2) the increased mass over the TP from glaciers or lakes? (3) under anthropogenic warming, how did the water and cryosphere cycles change on the two adjacent largest Plateaus in the world, the Tibetan and the Mongolian Plateaus, over the last four decades? and (4) how did the lake water storage and water balance change? These studies are of great significance to the understanding of the third pole of the world, the state of regional water resources and changes, and ecological civilization and ecological security construction. They also provide an important scientific basis for the planning of the third polar national park. The quantitative understanding of lake water balance and mechanisms and driving factors of lake change needs further work in the future.

Key words: Tibetan Plateau, lake change, remote sensing, progress and challenge