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Local changes in snow depth dominate the evolving pattern of elevation-dependent warming on the Tibetan Plateau

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Elevation-dependent warming (EDW), whereby warming rates are stratified by elevation, may increase the threat to the life-supporting solid water reservoir on the Tibetan Plateau. Previous studies have debated whether EDW exists and how it is driven. Using temperatures at 133 weather stations on the Tibetan Plateau during 17 different periods generated using a 30-year sliding window over 1973–2018, this study finds that the existence of EDW varies as the period moves forward, and critically it has become more severe over time. During the early part of the record with weaker regional warming, there were limited changes in snow depth and no EDW, but as time advances and regional warming intensifies, snow depth declines significantly at higher elevations, causing development of EDW. We conclude that enhanced regional warming has caused decreases in snow depth, largely controlling the pattern of EDW on the Tibetan Plateau. This may explain contrasting conclusions on EDW from previous studies which have used data for different periods, and our findings support enhanced EDW and more severe depletion of the Tibetan Plateau solid water reserves in a warmer future.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScience Bulletin
Early online date6 Feb 2021
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online - 6 Feb 2021

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