Ongoing Drainage Reorganization Driven by Rapid Lake Growths on the Tibetan Plateau

Kai Liu, Linghong Ke, Jida Wang, Ling Jiang, Keith S. Richards, Yongwei Sheng, Yunqiang Zhu, Chenyu Fan, Pengfei Zhan, Shuangxiao Luo, Jian Cheng, Tan Chen, Ronghua Ma, Qiuhua Liang, Austin Madson, Chunqiao Song

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review


Drainage reorganization generally occurs on geological time scales under unstable river network conditions. A few local-scale studies indicate that recent climatic changes might accelerate the drainage reorganization process. However, large-scale drainage reorganization during the modern era is rarely documented. This study examines ongoing drainage reorganization on the endorheic Tibetan Plateau (TP) as a primary result of drastic lake expansion. A total of 11 drainage system reorganization events comprising 24 different lake basins and covering a total area of 61,115 km2 occurred between 2000 and 2018. Assuming the continued growth rate of TP lakes, we project another 20 basins will be reorganized before 2030. These drainage basin reorganizations not only alter hydrological processes in the endorheic TP but may also cause the endorheic-exorheic transition, leading to the upstream sprawl of the Yangtze River Basin and posing outburst flooding risks on China's key infrastructure such as the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021GL095795
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 28 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • climate change
  • drainage reorganization
  • endorheic-exorheic transition
  • lake expansion
  • remote sensing
  • Tibetan Plateau

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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