Sciences in Cold and Arid Regions ›› 2020, Vol. 12 ›› Issue (3): 154-164.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1226.2020.00154

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Quantitatively estimate the components of natural runoff and identify the impacting factors in asnow-fed river basin of China

Jia Qin1(),JinKui Wu1,2,TianDing Han2,QiuDong Zhao1,2   

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Eco-hydrology Inland River Basin, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
    2.State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
  • Received:2019-11-26 Accepted:2020-02-11 Online:2020-06-30 Published:2020-06-29
  • Contact: Jia Qin


Snowmelt water is an essential runoff source of some alpine rivers in China. This study selected the Upper Burqin River (UBR), a typical snow-fed river, to quantitatively assess the runoff contributions of different components, as well as the causes of runoff variations under the background of cryosphere change and global warming. Based on the spatial-temporal distributions of snow and glaciers during a year, as well as the altitudinal variations of 0 °C isotherm, the high flow hydrographs in UBR was separated into two parts: seasonal snowmelt flood of lower altitudes (<3,000 m) and glacier-snow melt flow in high altitudes (3,000-4,296 m). The daily baseflow hydrograph of UBR was separated by the digital filtering technique. It is concluded that the contributions of snowmelt flow, glacier melt flow, and baseflow (includes rainfall runoff component) to total annual flow volumes are 27.2% (±2.7%), 8.5% (±1.7%), and 64.3% (±3.0%), respectively. The speed of air temperature rise in spring may be the controlling factor for monthly snowmelt flow distributions in the snow-fed river. The volume of snowmelt was determined by spring precipitation (SP) and previous winter's precipitation (PWP). The PWP changes can explain 43.7% of snowmelt changes during 1981-2010 in UBR, while snowmelt change in 1957-1980 is more impacted by SP. The determining factor of snowmelt variation was changed from SP to PAP during the recent decades. Precipitation in current year, excluding previous year's rainfall and snowfall, can only explain 32%-70% of the variability in total runoff.

Key words: snowmelt process, runoff separation, precipitation, air temperature, snow-fed river

Figure 1

The position of the UBR Basin and proportions of the area in different elevation bands to total area"

Figure 2

Monthly variations of snow coverage fractions (SCF) during 2000-2010 (a) and altitudinal variation of 0 °C isotherm (b) in different months in the UBR Basin"

Figure 3

Spatial changes of snow-cover melt process from April to June in 2003 in the UBR watershed"

Figure 4

Daily processes of baseflow, snowmelt, and glacier melt flow in UBR. Pb, Ps and Pg represent the corresponding proportions of baseflow, snowmelt flow, and glacier melt flow to total volumes of annual discharge, respectively"

Figure 5

Monthly variations of baseflow, snowmelt, precipitation and temperature in dry year (2008), common year (2006) and wet year (2001), respectively. Primary y-axis represents the proportions of baseflow, snowmelt, and precipitation to their respective total amount in each year. Secondary y-axis represents monthly temperature. R-annual runoff, Pt-annual precipitation, Tave represents annual mean temperature"

Figure 6

Linear regression plots of precipitation and snowmelt (filled circles) in the UBR Basin"

Figure 7

Precipitation, temeprature, and proportions of monthly observed runoff to total volumes of annual runoff in different decades of 1957-2010 in the study area"

Figure 8

Correlations between annual runoff (anomaly value) and precipitation (P(t)) combined with previous year's rainfall (Rain(t-1)) or snowfall (Snow(t-1)) in the UBR Basin. t is water year. The filled circles are effective data, and the blocks (in red) represent outliers in different periods"

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