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A projection of permafrost degradation on the Tibetan Plateau during the 21st century

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Abstract

[1] The current distribution and future change of permafrost on the Tibetan Plateau were examined using the Community Land Model version 4 (CLM4) with explicit treatment of frozen soil processes. When forced off-line with archived high-resolution data from The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics Regional Climate Model version 3 nested within the Model for Interdisciplinary Research on Climate 3.2 HiRes, the CLM4 produced a near-surface permafrost area of 122.2 × 104 km2 for the Tibetan Plateau. This area compares reasonably with area estimates of 126.7 × 104 km2 for the Plateau frozen soil map. In response to the simulated strong Plateau warming (approximately 0.58°C per decade over the Tibetan Plateau for the period from 1980 to 2100 under the A1B greenhouse gas emissions scenario), the near-surface permafrost area is projected to decrease by approximately 39% by the mid-21st century and by approximately 81% by the end of the 21st century. The near-surface permafrost area exhibits a significant decreasing linear trend, with a rate of decrease of 9.9 × 104 km2 per decade. The simulated deep permafrost area remains longer than the near-surface permafrost for the same period. The active layer thickness of 0.5–1.5 m found in the present-day increases to approximately 1.5–2.0 m by the period of 2030–2050. This increase will continue and reach a level of 2.0–3.5 m by the period of 2080–2100. Surface runoff decreases but subsurface runoff increases, both relative to the difference between precipitation and evapotranspiration. This is related to the fact that the decrease in ground ice content, as caused by permafrost degradation, facilitates the percolation of more water to deeper soil layers, thus resulting in the reallocation of runoff. These results provide useful references for evaluating the level of permafrost degradation in response to climate warming on the Tibetan Plateau.

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