22 Apr 2021

22 Apr 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ESSD.

100 years of lake evolution over the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Guoqing Zhang1, Youhua Ran2, Wei Wan3, Wei Luo1,4, Wenfeng Chen1,5, and Fenglin Xu1,5 Guoqing Zhang et al.
  • 1State Key Laboratory of Tibetan Plateau Earth System Science, Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
  • 2Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, China
  • 3Institute of Remote Sensing and GIS, School of Earth and Space Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China
  • 4Natural Resources and Planning Bureau, Qujing, Yunnan, China
  • 5University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China

Abstract. Lakes can be effective indicators of climate change, and this is especially so for the lakes over the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP), the highest plateau in the world, which undergo little direct human influence. The QTP has warmed at twice as the mean global rate, and the lakes there respond rapidly to climate and cryosphere changes. The QTP has ~1200 lakes larger than 1 km2 with a total area of ~46000 km2, accounting for approximately half the number and area of lakes in China. The lakes over the QTP have been selected as an essential example for global lakes or water bodies studies. However, concerning lake data over the QTP are limited to the Landsat era and/or available at sparse intervals. Here, we extend the record to provide the comprehensive lake evolution data sets covering the past 100 years (from 1920 to 2020). Lake mapping in 1920 was derived from an early map of the Republic of China, and in 1960 from the topographic map of China. The densest lake inventories produced so far between 1970 and 2020 (covering all lakes larger than 1 km2 in 14 epochs) are mapped from Landsat MSS, TM, ETM+ and OLI images. The lake evolution shows remarkable transitions between four phases: significant shrinkage in 1920–1995, rapid linear increase in 1995–2010, relative stability in 2010–2015, and further increase in 2015–2020. The spatial pattern indicates that the majority of lakes shrank in 1920–1995, and expanded in 1995–2020, with a dominant enlargement for central-north lakes in contrast to contraction for southern lakes in 1976–2020. The time series of precipitation between 1920 and 2017 indirectly supports the evolution trends of lakes identified in this study. The lake data set is freely available at (Zhang et al., 2021).

Guoqing Zhang et al.

Status: open (until 17 Jun 2021)

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Guoqing Zhang et al.

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100 years of lake evolution over the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Guoqing Zhang, Youhua Ran, Wei Wan, Wei Luo, Wenfeng Chen, Fenglin Xu

Guoqing Zhang et al.


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Short summary
Lakes can be effective indicators of climate change, especially over the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Here, we provide the most comprehensive lake mapping covering the past 100 years. The new features of this data set are: 1) its temporal length – it provides the longest period of lake observations from maps; 2) it provides a state-of-the-art lake inventory for the Landsat era (from the 1970s to 2020); 3) it provides the densest lake observations for lakes with areas larger than 1 km2.