Contrasting fate of western Third Pole’s water resources under 21st century climate change

Seasonal melting of glaciers and snow from the western Third Pole (TP) plays important role in sustaining water supplies downstream. However, the future water availability of the region, and even today’s runoff regime, are both hotly debated and inadequately quantified. Here, we characterize the contemporary flow regimes and systematically assess the future evolution of total water availability, seasonal shifts, and dry and wet discharge extremes in four most meltwater-dominated basins in the western TP, by using a process-based, well-established glacier-hydrology model, well-constrained historical reference climate data, and the ensemble of 22 global climate models with an advanced statistical downscaling and bias correction technique. We show that these basins face sharply diverging water futures under 21st century climate change. In RCP scenarios 4.5 and 8.5, increased precipitation and glacier runoff in the Upper Indus and Yarkant basins more than compensate for decreased winter snow accumulation, boosting annual and summer water availability through the end of the century. In contrast, the Amu and Syr Darya basins will become more reliant on rainfall runoff as glacier ice and seasonal snow decline. Syr Darya summer river-flows, already low, will fall by 16–30% by end-of-century, and striking increases in peak flood discharge (by >60%), drought duration (by >1 month) and drought intensity (by factor 4.6) will compound the considerable water-sharing challenges on this major transboundary river.


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Authors: Su, Fengge, Pritchard, Hamish D. ORCIDORCID record for Hamish D. Pritchard, Yao, Tandong, Huang, Jingheng, Ou, Tinghai, Meng, Fanchong, Sun, He, Li, Ying, Xu, Baiqing, Zhu, Meilin, Chen, Deliang

On this site: Hamish Pritchard
19 September, 2022
Earth's Future / 10
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