Sciences in Cold and Arid Regions ›› 2020, Vol. 12 ›› Issue (5): 272-283.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1226.2020.00272.

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Processes of runoff in seasonally-frozen ground about a forested catchment of semiarid mountains

PengFei Lin1,2,ZhiBin He1,2(),Jun Du1,2,LongFei Chen1,2,Xi Zhu1,2,QuanYan Tian1,2   

  1. 1.Linze Inland River Basin Research Station, Chinese Ecosystem Research Network, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
    2.Key Laboratory of Ecohydrology of Inland River Basin, Northwest Institute of Eco‐Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
  • Received:2020-04-12 Accepted:2020-06-17 Online:2020-10-31 Published:2020-10-29
  • Contact: ZhiBin He


Climate warming increases the variability in runoff of semiarid mountains where seasonally-frozen ground is widely distributed. However, what is not well understood are the processes of runoff, hydrological drivers, and freeze-thaw cycles in seasonally-frozen ground in semiarid mountains. To understand how freeze-thaw cycles affect runoff processes in seasonally-frozen ground, we monitored hydrological processes in a typical headwater catchment with seasonally-frozen ground in Qilian Mountain, China, from 2002 to 2017. We analyzed the responses of runoff to temperature, precipitation, and seasonally-frozen ground to quantify process characteristics and driving factors. The results show that annual runoff was 88.5 mm accounting for 25.6% of rainfall, mainly concentrated in May to October, with baseflow of 36.44 mm. Peak runoff occurred in June, August, and September, i.e., accounting for spring and summer floods. Runoff during the spring flood was produced by a mix of rainfall, melting snow, and melting seasonally-frozen ground, and had a significant correlation with air temperature. Runoff was mainly due to precipitation accumulation during the summer flood. Air temperature, average soil temperature at 0-50 cm depth, and frozen soil depth variable explained 59.60% of the variation of runoff in the thawing period, while precipitation variable explained 21.9%. Thawing-period runoff and soil temperature had a >0.6 correlation coefficient (P <0.05). In the rainfall-period, runoff was also affected by temperature, soil moisture, and precipitation, which explained 33.6%, 34.1% and 18.1%, respectively. Our results show that increasing temperature and precipitation will have an irreversible impact on the hydrological regime in mountainous basins where seasonally-frozen ground is widely distributed.

Key words: runoff, seasonally-frozen ground, semiarid mountains, Northeast margin of Tibetan Plateau

Figure 1

Study area and observation instrument position"

Figure 2

Micro-runoff plots and observation instrument"

Figure 3

Characteristics of meteorological elements in Pailugou catchment (2010 to 2017): (a) annual precipitation, (b) percentage of precipitation events for different precipitation amounts, (c) annual precipitation and annual sunshine hours"

Figure 4

Mean daily soil temperature and moisture at 5, 10, 20, 40 and 60 cm depth in the study catchment, (a) soil temperature, (b) soil moisture"

Figure 5

The process of soil freezing and thawing in 2015 at Pailugou catchment"

Table 1

Baseflow characteristics at the catchment"

YearPrecipitation (mm)Runoff (mm)Runoff coefficientBaseflow (mm)BFI

Figure 6

Runoff generation processes in 2015 at Pailugou catchment"

Table 2

Precipitation and runoff for the freezing, thawing and rainfall periods"

YearFreezing periodThawing periodRainfall period
Precipitation (mm)Runoff (mm)Precipitation (mm)Runoff (mm)Precipitation (mm)Runoff (mm)

Table 3

Component rotation load matrix and its contribution rate"

ThawingAir temperature0.85
0-50 cm soil temperature0.96
0-50 cm soil moisture0.63
Soil freeze-thaw thickness-0.93
Contribution rate59.60%21.9%
RainfallAir temperature0.85
0-50 cm soil temperature0.92
0-50 cm soil moisture0.86
Soil freeze-thaw thickness-0.52
Contribution rate34.10%33.6%18.1%

Figure 7

Relationships between runoff and soil temperature, air temperature, and frozen soil freezing and thawing in 2016"

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