Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 26, 3901–3920, 2022



© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


The accelerated climate warming in the Tibetan Plateau after 1997 has profound consequences in hydrology, geography, and social wellbeing. In hydrology, the change in streamflow as a result of changes in dynamic water storage that originated from glacier melt and permafrost thawing in the warming climate directly affects the available water resources for societies of the most populated nations in the world. In this study, annual streamflow recession characteristics are analyzed using daily climate and hydrological data during 1980–2015 in the Yarlung Zangbo River basin (YRB) of the southern Tibetan Plateau. The recession characteristics are examined in terms of dQ=dt D􀀀aQb and the response/ sensitivity of streamflow to changes in groundwater storage. Major results show that climate warming has significantly increased the nonlinearity of the response (b) and streamflow stability [log.a/] in most subbasins of the YRB. These changes in the recession characteristics are attributed to the opposite effects of increases in the available water storage and recession timescale on the recession. Climate warming has increased subbasin water storage considerably due to more recharge from accelerated glacier melting and permafrost thawing after 1997. Meanwhile, the enlarged storage lengthens recession timescales and thereby decreases the sensitivity of discharge to storage. In the recession period when recharge diminished, increased evaporation and the decreased buffering effect of frost soils under warmer temperatures accelerate the initial recession of streamflow. By contrast, enlarged storage and lengthened recession timescales slow down the recession. While reservoir regulations in some basins have helped reduce and even reverse some of these climate warming effects, this short-term remedy can only function before the solid water storage is exhausted should the climate warming continue.