17 Feb 2022
17 Feb 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Climate and Cryosphere Cause Regime Shifts in Water Yield over the Upper Brahmaputra River

Hao Li1, Liu Liu2, Baoying Shan3, Lei Wang4, Akash Koppa1, Feng Zhong5, Dongfeng Li6, Xuanxuan Wang2, Wenfeng Liu2, Xiuping Li4, and Zongxue Xu7 Hao Li et al.
  • 1Hydro-Climate Extremes Lab, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
  • 2Center for Agricultural Water Research in China, China Agricultural University, Beijing, China
  • 3Research Unit Knowledge-based Systems, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
  • 4Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of China, Beijing, China
  • 5College of Hydrology and Water Resources, Hohai University, Nanjing, China
  • 6Department of Geography, National University of Singapore, Singapore
  • 7College of Water Sciences, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China

Abstract. Although evidence of hydrological responses to climate is abundant, changes in water yield (WY) in mountainous regions due to climate change and intensified cryospheric melt remain unclear, mainly because of limited observations and large uncertainties in cryosphere-hydrological modeling. In this study, we used annual runoff observations and a high-resolution precipitation dataset to examine the long-term changes in WY in the Upper Brahmaputra River (UBR) basin, as represented by six sub-basins from the stream head to downstream. We found that WY generally increased during 1982–2013, but regime shifts were detected in the late 1990s. Moreover, the direction of the changes in WY reversed from increasing to decreasing in recent years despite the magnitude of the changes continually increasing from less than 10 % to 80.5 %. Furthermore, we used the double mass curve technique to assess the effects of climate, vegetation, and the cryosphere on WY. The results showed that the climate and cryosphere together contributed to over 80 % of the magnitude increases in WY over the entire UBR basin. However, the combined effects were either offsetting or additive, further leading to slight or substantial magnitude increases, respectively, in which the role of vegetation was nearly negligible. Nevertheless, we found that meltwater from the cryosphere had the potential to alleviate the loss of water availability, which mainly resulted from reduced effective precipitation in most regions. Therefore, the combined effects of climate and cryosphere changes should be considered in ecological restoration and water resources management, particularly involving co-benefits for upstream and downstream regions.

Hao Li et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on hess-2022-60', Florian Ulrich Jehn, 21 Feb 2022
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC1', Liu Liu, 19 Apr 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on hess-2022-60', Anonymous Referee #2, 06 Apr 2022
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC2', Liu Liu, 19 Apr 2022

Hao Li et al.


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Short summary
This study examines changes in water yield by determining turning points in the direction of yield changes and highlights that: regime shifts in historical water yield occurred in the Upper Brahmaputra River basin; both the climate and cryosphere effect the magnitude of water yield increases; climate determined the declining trends in water yield; meltwater has the potential to alleviate the reduced water availability. We believe that our study makes a significant contribution to the literature.