Water storage variations in Tibet from GRACE, ICESat, and hydrological data

Fang Zou, Robert Tenzer, Shuanggen Jin

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


The monitoring of water storage variations is essential not only for the management of water resources, but also for a better understanding of the impact of climate change on hydrological cycle, particularly in Tibet. In this study, we estimated and analyzed changes of the total water budget on the Tibetan Plateau from the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission over 15 years prior to 2017. To suppress overall leakage effect of GRACE monthly solutions in Tibet, we applied a forward modeling technique to reconstruct hydrological signals from GRACE data. The results reveal a considerable decrease in the total water budget at an average annual rate of -6.22 ± 1.74 Gt during the period from August 2002 to December 2016. In addition to the secular trend, seasonal variations controlled mainly by annual changes in precipitation were detected, with maxima in September and minima in December. A rising temperature on the plateau is likely a principal factor causing a continuous decline of the total water budget attributed to increase melting of mountain glaciers, permafrost, and snow cover. We also demonstrate that a substantial decrease in the total water budget due to melting of mountain glaciers was partially moderated by the increasing water storage of lakes. This is evident from results of ICESat data for selected major lakes and glaciers. The ICESat results confirm a substantial retreat of mountain glaciers and an increasing trend of major lakes. An increasing volume of lakes is mainly due to an inflow of the meltwater from glaciers and precipitation. Our estimates of the total water budget on the Tibetan Plateau are affected by a hydrological signal from neighboring regions. Probably the most significant are aliasing signals due to ground water depletion in Northwest India and decreasing precipitation in the Eastern Himalayas. Nevertheless, an integral downtrend in the total water budget on the Tibetan Plateau caused by melting of glaciers prevails over the investigated period.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1103
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


  • Glacier melting
  • Lakes
  • Leakage effect
  • Tibetan Plateau
  • Water storage balance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Water storage variations in Tibet from GRACE, ICESat, and hydrological data'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this