Sciences in Cold and Arid Regions ›› 2017, Vol. 9 ›› Issue (1): 1-19.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1226.2017.00001

• REVIEW •    

Evolution and changes of permafrost on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau during the Late Quaternary

XiaoLi Chang1,2, HuiJun Jin2, RuiXia He2, LanZhi Lü2, Stuart A. Harris3   

  1. 1. Hunan University of Science and Technology, Xiangtan, Hunan 411202, China;
    2. State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soils Engineering, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China;
    3. Department of Geography, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive, NW Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 1N4
  • Received:2016-05-27 Revised:2016-10-14 Published:2018-11-23
  • Contact: HuiJun Jin, Professor of State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soils Engineering, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences. No. 320, West Donggang Road, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China. E-mail:HuiJun Jin, Professor of State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soils Engineering, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences. No. 320, West Donggang Road, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China.
  • Supported by:
    Studies in this paper was supported by the Subproject No. XDA05120302 (Permafrost Extent in China during the Last Glaciation Maximum and Mega-thermal), Strategic Pilot Science and Technology Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Iden-tification of Carbon Budgets for Adaptation to Changing Climate and the Associated Issues) (Grant No. XDA05000000), Open Fund of State Key La-boratory of Frozen Soil Engineering (Grant No. SKLFSE201505), and under the auspices of the In-ternational Permafrost Association (IPA) Working Group on "Last Permafrost Maximum and Minimum (LPMM) on the Eurasian Continent."

Abstract: Due to the uplift of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP), the cryosphere gradually developed on the higher mountain summits after the Neocene, becoming widespread during the Late Quaternary. During this time, permafrost on the QTP experienced repeated expansion and degradation. Based on the remains and cross-correlation with other proxy records such as those from glacial landforms, ice-core and paleogeography, the evolution and changes of permafrost and environmental changes on the QTP during the past 150,000 years were deduced and are presented in this paper. At least four obvious cycles of the extensive and intensive development, expansion and decay of permafrost occurred during the periods of 150-130, 80-50, 30-14 and after 10.8 ka B.P.. During the Holocene, fluctuating climatic environments affected the permafrost on the QTP, and the peripheral mountains experienced six periods of discernible permafrost changes:(1) Stable development of permafrost in the early Holocene (10.8 to 8.5-7.0 ka B.P.); (2) Intensive permafrost degradation during the Holocene Megathermal Period (HMP, from 8.5-7.0 to 4.0-3.0 ka B.P.); (3) Permafrost expansion during the early Neoglacial period (ca. 4,000-3,000 to 1,000 a B.P.); (4) Relative degradation during the Medieval Warm Period (MWP, from 1,000 to 500 a B.P.); (5) Expansion of permafrost during the Little Ice Age (LIA, from 500 to 100 a B.P.); (6) Observed and predicted degradation of permafrost during the 20th and 21st century. Each period differed greatly in paleoclimate, paleoenvironment, and permafrost distribution, thickness, areal extent, and ground temperatures, as well as in the development of periglacial phenomena. Statistically, closer dating of the onset permafrost formation, more identification of permafrost remains with richer proxy information about paleoenvironment, and more dating information enable higher resolution for paleo-permafrost reconstruction. Based on the scenarios of persistent climate warming of 2.2~2.6℃ in the next 50 years, and in combination of the monitored trends of climate and permafrost changes, and model predictions suggest an accelerated regional degradation of plateau permafrost. Therefore, during the first half of the 21st century, profound changes in the stability of alpine ecosystems and hydro(geo)logical environments in the source regions of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers may occur. The foundation stability of key engineering infrastructures and sustainable economic development in cold regions on the QTP may be affected.

Key words: Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP), Pleistocene, Holocene, permafrost expansion and degradation, periglacial remains, paleo-reconstruction, environmental impacts

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