Spatial-temporal trends of hydrological transitions in thermokarst lakes on Northeast Qinghai-Tibet Plateau based on stable isotopes

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Regarded as the water towers of numerous large rivers in Asia, the Source Area of Yellow River (SAYR) on Northeast Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP) contains substantial thermokarst lakes, which have exerted significant roles on the regional hydrology and water resources under permafrost degradation. To address the potential impact of climate- and permafrost-induced changes in surface hydrological processes in the SAYR, the hydrological transitions and water balance of thermokarst lakes were characterized on large scales during three years using stable isotope method. Spatial and seasonal deviations in hydrological processes of thermokarst lakes were remarkable. Calculations of evaporation-to-inflow (E/I) ratios based on an isotope-mass balance model revealed substantial evaporation for all thermokarst lakes during June due to the control of climate conditions and limited input water. Substantial feeds from summer/fall rain and permafrost meltwater resulted in lower evaporation and positive water balance of lakes during July, August, September, and October. Based on the relationship between lake-specific input water isotope compositions (δ ) and annual average isotope value of precipitation (δ ), the recharge patterns of thermokarst lakes in the SAYR were classified: supra-permafrost water/rainfall-dominated lakes were mainly concentrated during June and October regardless of spatial divergences, and summer precipitation/ permafrost thaw-dominated lakes are popular during July and August. Qualitatively, seasonal diversities in the water balance of thermokarst lakes are combinatively controlled by air temperature, precipitation regimes, permafrost degradation in the SAYR. Lastly, the future hydrological trajectories of thermokarst lakes are expected under climatic warming and permafrost degradation. This study serves as an important contribution for understanding future hydrological changes and allocation of water resources on the QTP, as well as an indication of permafrost degradation under climate warming.

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Journal of Hydrology