Projected future changes in cryosphere and hydrology of a mountainous catchment in the Upper Heihe River, China
Abstract. Climate warming exacerbates the degradation of the mountain cryosphere, including glacier retreat, reduction in snow cover area, and permafrost degradation. These changes dramatically alter the local and downstream hydrological regime, posing significant threats to basin-scale water resource management and sustainable development. However, there is still a lack of systematic research that evaluates the variation of cryospheric elements in mountainous catchments and their impacts on future hydrology and water resources. In this study, we developed an integrated cryospheric-hydrologic model, referred to as the FLEX-Cryo model. This model comprehensively considers glaciers, snow cover, frozen soil, and their dynamic impacts on hydrological processes in the mountainous Hulu catchment located in the Upper Heihe river of China. We utilized the state-of-the-art climate change projection data from the sixth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6) to simulate the future changes in the mountainous cryosphere and their impacts on hydrology. Our findings showed that the two glaciers in the Hulu catchment will completely melt out around the years 2045–2051. By the end of the 21st century, the annual maximum snow water equivalent is projected to decrease by 41.4 % and 46.0 %, while the duration of snow cover will be reduced by approximately 45 and 70 days. The freeze onset of seasonal frozen soil is expected to be delayed by 10 and 22 days, while the thaw onset of permafrost is likely to advance by 19 and 32 days. Moreover, the maximum freeze depth of seasonal frozen soil is projected to decrease by 5.2 and 10.9 cm per decade, and the depth of the active layer will increase by 8.2 and 15.5 cm per decade. Regarding hydrology, runoff exhibits a decreasing trend until the complete melt-out of glaciers, resulting in a total runoff decrease of 15.6 % and 18.1 %. Subsequently, total runoff shows an increasing trend, primarily due to an increase in precipitation. Permafrost degradation causes the duration of low runoff in the early thawing season to decrease, and the discontinuous baseflow recession gradually transitions into linear recessions, leading to an increase in baseflow. Our results highlight the significant changes expected in the mountainous cryosphere and hydrology in the future. These findings enhance our understanding of cold-region hydrological processes and have the potential to assist local and downstream water resource management in addressing the challenges posed by climate change.
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