Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Changes in active layer thickness over the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau from 1995 to 2007

Authors

  • Qingbai Wu,

    1. State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soil Engineering, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Science, Lanzhou, China
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  • Tingjun Zhang

    1. State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soil Engineering, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Science, Lanzhou, China
    2. National Snow and Ice Data Center, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA
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Abstract

[1] The active layer over permafrost plays a significant role in surface energy balance, hydrologic cycle, carbon fluxes, ecosystem, and landscape processes and on the human infrastructure in cold regions. Over a period from 1995 to 2007, a systematic soil temperature measurement network of 10 sites was established along the Qinghai-Tibetan Highway. Soil temperatures up to 12 m depth were continuously measured semimonthly. In this study, we investigate spatial variations of active layer thickness (ALT) and its change over the period of record. We found that ALT can be estimated with confidence using semimonthly soil temperature profiles compared to those determined from available daily soil temperature profiles over the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. The primary results demonstrate that long-term and spatially averaged ALT is ∼2.41 m with a range of 1.32–4.57 m along the Qinghai-Tibetan Highway. All monitoring sites show an increase in ALT over the period of their records. The mean increasing rate of ALT is ∼7.5 cm/yr. ALT shows a closely positive correlation with the thawing index of air temperature on the plateau. We estimated ALT using the thawing index over a period from 1956 to 2005 near the Wudaoliang Meteorological Station in the northern plateau. ALT had no or very limited change from 1956 to 1983 and a sharp increase of ∼39 cm from 1983 to 2005. The magnitude of ALT increase is greater in the warm permafrost region than in the cold permafrost region. The primary control of increase in ALT is caused by an increase in summer air temperature, whereas changes in the winter air temperature and snow cover condition play no or a very limited role.

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