The Hindu Kush–Karakoram–Himalayan system, named the Third Pole because it is the largest global store of frozen water after the polar regions, provides a reliable water supply to almost 2 billion people. Marked atmospheric warming has changed the balance of this so-called Asian water tower and altered water resources in downstream countries. In this Review, we synthesize observational evidence and model projections that describe an imbalance in the Asian water tower caused by accelerated transformation of ice and snow into liquid water. This phase change is associated with a south–north disparity due to the spatio-temporal interaction between the westerlies and the Indian monsoon. A corresponding spatial imbalance is exhibited by alterations in freshwater resources in endorheic or exorheic basins. Global warming is expected to amplify this imbalance, alleviating water scarcity in the Yellow and Yangtze River basins and increasing scarcity in the Indus and Amu Darya River basins. However, the future of the Asian water tower remains highly uncertain. Accurate predictions of future water supply require the establishment of comprehensive monitoring stations in data-scarce regions and the development of advanced coupled atmosphere–cryosphere–hydrology models. Such models are needed to inform the development of actionable policies for sustainable water resource management.
During 1980–2018, warming of the Asian Water Tower (AWT) was 0.42 °C per decade, twice the global average rate.
Annual precipitation in the AWT increased by 11 mm per decade in endorheic basins and 12 mm per decade in exorheic basins, despite decreased precipitation in some large river basins.
From 2000 to 2018, total glacier mass in the AWT decreased by about 340 Gt whereas total water mass in lakes increased by 166 Gt.
Changes in the westerlies and the Indian monsoon led the AWT to develop an imbalance characterized by water gains in endorheic basins and water losses in exorheic basins.
Ubiquitous increases in precipitation and river run-off are projected in the future of the AWT; however, these changes cannot meet the accelerating water demands of downstream regions and countries.
Comprehensive monitoring systems, advanced modelling capacity and sustainable water management are needed to develop adaptation policies for the AWT through collaboration between upstream and downstream regions and countries.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Anthropogenic forcing and Pacific internal variability-determined decadal increase in summer precipitation over the Asian water tower
npj Climate and Atmospheric Science Open Access 19 May 2023
Access Nature and 54 other Nature Portfolio journals
Get Nature+, our best-value online-access subscription
$29.99 / 30 days
cancel any time
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 digital issues and online access to articles
$99.00 per year
only $8.25 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Prices vary by article type
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Immerzeel, W. W. et al. Importance and vulnerability of the world’s water towers. Nature 577, 364–369 (2020).This work addresses the importance and vulnerability of the AWT compared with other global water towers.
Yao, T. et al. Recent Third Pole’s rapid warming accompanies cryospheric melt and water cycle intensification and interactions between monsoon and environment: multidisciplinary approach with observations, modeling, and analysis. B Am. Meteorol. Soc. 100, 423–444 (2019). This paper proposes a multidisciplinary framework from the viewpoint of Earth system science for addressing Third Pole environmental changes under the current unprecedented warming.
Chen, D. et al. Assessment of past, present and future environmental changes on the Tibetan Plateau. Chin. Sci. Bull. 60, 3025–3035 (2015).
Yang, K. et al. Recent climate changes over the Tibetan Plateau and their impacts on energy and water cycle: a review. Glob. Planet. Change 112, 79–91 (2014).
Yao, T. et al. Different glacier status with atmospheric circulations in Tibetan Plateau and surroundings. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 663–667 (2012). This report provides the first evidence of glacier changes driven by the Indian monsoon and westerlies: intensive retreat in the monsoon-dominant region, advance in the westerlies-dominant region and stable in between over the Third Pole.
Yao, R. & Shi, J. Precipitation differences cause contrast patterns of glacier-melt water supplied discharge of two glacier basins between northern and southern Third Pole. Sci. Bull. 64, 431–434 (2019).
Pritchard, H. D. Asia’s shrinking glaciers protect large populations from drought stress. Nature 569, 649–654 (2019).
Kraaijenbrink, P. D. A., Stigter, E. E., Yao, T. & Immerzeel, W. W. Climate change decisive for Asia’s snow meltwater supply. Nat. Clim. Change 11, 591–597 (2021).
Pulliainen, J. et al. Patterns and trends of northern hemisphere snow mass from 1980 to 2018. Nature 581, 294–298 (2020).
Nie, Y. et al. Glacial change and hydrological implications in the Himalaya and Karakoram. Nat. Rev. Earth Environ. 2, 91–106 (2021).
Zhang, G. et al. Response of Tibetan Plateau lakes to climate change: trends, patterns, and mechanisms. Earth Sci. Rev. 208, 103269 (2020).
Woolway, R. I. et al. Global lake responses to climate change. Nat. Rev. Earth Environ. 1, 388–403 (2020).
Shugar, D. H. et al. Rapid worldwide growth of glacial lakes since 1990. Nat. Clim. Change 10, 939–945 (2020).
Yang, K. et al. Recent dynamics of alpine lakes on the endorheic Changtang Plateau from multi-mission satellite data. J. Hydrol. 552, 633–645 (2017).
Wan, W. et al. Monitoring lake changes of Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau over the past 30 years using satellite remote sensing data. Chin. Sci. Bull. 59, 1021–1035 (2014).
Wang, X. et al. Glacial lake inventory of high-mountain Asia in 1990 and 2018 derived from Landsat images. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 12, 2169–2182 (2020).
Chen, F. et al. Annual 30 m dataset for glacial lakes in High Mountain Asia from 2008 to 2017. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 13, 741–766 (2021).
Zhang, G. et al. Extensive and drastically different alpine lake changes on Asia’s high plateaus during the past four decades. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 252–260 (2017). This report addresses the lake expansion caused by increased precipitation and cryosphere melt in the past four decades over the Tibetan Plateau.
Lutz, A. F., Immerzeel, W. W., Shrestha, A. B. & Bierkens, M. F. P. Consistent increase in High Asia’s runoff due to increasing glacier melt and precipitation. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 587–592 (2014).
Wang, L. et al. TP-River: monitoring and quantifying total river runoff from the Third Pole. B. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 102, E948–E965 (2021). This report quantifies the annual total run-off in the Third Pole region, mostly on the basis of ground-based gauge discharge observations.
Azam, M. F. et al. Glaciohydrology of the Himalaya–Karakoram. Science 373, eabf3668 (2021).
Wang, Y. et al. Warming-induced shrubline advance stalled by moisture limitation on the Tibetan Plateau. Ecography 44, 1631–1641 (2021).
Lamsal, P., Kumar, L., Shabani, F. & Atreya, K. The greening of the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau under climate change. Glob. Planet. Change 159, 77–92 (2017).
Teng, H. et al. Climate change-induced greening on the Tibetan Plateau modulated by mountainous characteristics. Environ. Res. Lett. 16, 064064 (2021).
Zhang, W. X., Zhou, T. J. & Zhang, L. X. Wetting and greening Tibetan Plateau in early summer in recent decades. J. Geophys. Res.-At. 122, 5808–5822 (2017).
Wang, T. et al. Atmospheric dynamic constraints on Tibetan Plateau freshwater under Paris climate targets. Nat. Clim. Change 11, 219–225 (2021). This study reveals worsening water scarcity for the Indus and Ganges River basins using a model-data constrained approach.
Immerzeel, W. W., Beek, L. P. H. & Bierkens, M. F. P. Climate change will affect the Asian water towers. Science 328, 1382–1385 (2010).
Zhang, Y. et al. Water resources assessment in the Minqin basin: an arid inland river basin under intensive irrigation in northwest China. Environ. Earth Sci. 65, 1831–1839 (2011).
Tan, Y. & Liu, X. Water shortage and inequality in arid Minqin oasis of northwest China: adaptive policies and farmers’ perceptions. Local. Environ. 22, 934–951 (2017).
Liu, W. et al. Dynamic changes in lakes in the Hoh Xil region before and after the 2011 outburst of Zonag Lake. J. Mt. Sci. 16, 1098–1110 (2019).
Ali, S., Haider, R., Abbas, W., Basharat, M. & Reicherter, K. Empirical assessment of rockfall and debris flow risk along the Karakoram Highway, Pakistan. Nat. Hazards 106, 2437–2460 (2021).
Shugar, D. H. et al. A massive rock and ice avalanche caused the 2021 disaster at Chamoli, Indian Himalaya. Science 373, 300–306 (2021).
Su, B. et al. Mismatch between the population and meltwater changes creates opportunities and risks for global glacier-fed basins. Sci. Bull. 67, 9–12 (2022).
Zhao, X., Ma, X., Chen, B., Shang, Y. & Song, M. Challenges toward carbon neutrality in China: strategies and countermeasures. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 176, 105959 (2022).
Liu, X. D. & Chen, B. D. Climatic warming in the Tibetan Plateau during recent decades. Int. J. Climatol. 20, 1729–1742 (2000).
Guo, D. & Wang, H. The significant climate warming in the northern Tibetan Plateau and its possible causes. Int. J. Climatol. 32, 1775–1781 (2012).
You, Q., Cai, Z., Pepin, N., Chen, D. & Ahrens, B. Warming amplification over the Arctic Pole and Third Pole. Earth Sci. Rev. 217, 103625 (2021).
Yan, Y., You, Q., Wu, F., Pepin, N. & Kang, S. Surface mean temperature from the observational stations and multiple reanalyses over the Tibetan Plateau. Clim. Dyn. 55, 2405–2419 (2020).
Chylek, P., Folland, C. K., Lesins, G., Dubey, M. K. & Wang, M. Arctic air temperature change amplification and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L14801 (2009).
Ren, Y.-Y. et al. Observed changes in surface air temperature and precipitation in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region over the last 100-plus years. Adv. Clim. Change Res. 8, 148–156 (2017).
Wester, P., Mishra, A., Mukherji, A. & Shrestha, A. B. The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment: Mountains, Climate Change, Sustainability and People (Springer Nature, 2019).
Wang, B., Bao, Q., Hoskins, B., Wu, G. & Liu, Y. Tibetan Plateau warming and precipitation changes in East Asia. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L14702 (2008).
Yu, H., Luedeling, E. & Xu, J. Winter and spring warming result in delayed spring phenology on the Tibetan Plateau. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 22151–22156 (2010).
Libin, Y. & Liu, X. Has climatic warming over the Tibetan Plateau paused or continued in recent years. J. Earth Ocean. Atmos. Sci. 1, 13–28 (2014).
You, Q. L. et al. Revisiting the relationship between observed warming and surface pressure in the Tibetan Plateau. J. Clim. 30, 1721–1737 (2017).
Kang, S. et al. Review of climate and cryospheric change in the Tibetan Plateau. Environ. Res. Lett. 5, 015101 (2010).
You, Q., Min, J., Jiao, Y., Sillanpää, M. & Kang, S. Observed trend of diurnal temperature range in the Tibetan Plateau in recent decades. Int. J. Climatol. 36, 2633–2643 (2016).
Chen, H. et al. The impacts of climate change and human activities on biogeochemical cycles on the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau. Glob. Change Biol. 19, 2940–2955 (2013).
Liu, X. & Hou, P. Relationship between the climatic warming over the Qinghai–Xizang Plateau and its surrounding areas in recent 30 years and the elevation. Plateau Meteorol. 17, 245–249 (1998).
You, Q. et al. Elevation dependent warming over the Tibetan Plateau: patterns, mechanisms and perspectives. Earth Sci. Rev. 210, 103349 (2020).
Pepin, N. et al. Elevation-dependent warming in mountain regions of the world. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 424–430 (2015).
Zhang, H. et al. Snow cover persistence reverses the altitudinal patterns of warming above and below 5000 m on the Tibetan Plateau. Sci. Total. Env. 803, 149889 (2022).
Liu, W. et al. Monsoon clouds control the summer surface energy balance on East Rongbuk Glacier (6,523 m above sea level), the northern of Mt. Qomolangma (Everest). J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 126, e2020JD033998 (2021).
Niu, X. et al. The performance of CORDEX-EA-II simulations in simulating seasonal temperature and elevation-dependent warming over the Tibetan Plateau. Clim. Dynam 57, 1135–1153 (2021).
Shen, M. et al. Evaporative cooling over the Tibetan Plateau induced by vegetation growth. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 9299–9304 (2015).
Zou, M., Xiong, X., Wu, Z. & Yu, C. Ozone trends during 1979–2019 over Tibetan Plateau derived from satellite observations. Front. Earth Sci 8, 579624 (2020).
Kuang, X. & Jiao, J. J. Review on climate change on the Tibetan Plateau during the last half century. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 121, 3979–4007 (2016).
Sun, J. et al. Why has the Inner Tibetan Plateau become wetter since the mid-1990s? J. Clim. 33, 8507–8522 (2020).
Wang, X., Pang, G. & Yang, M. Precipitation over the Tibetan Plateau during recent decades: a review based on observations and simulations. Int. J. Climatol. 38, 1116–1131 (2018).
You, Q. et al. Inconsistencies of precipitation in the eastern and central Tibetan Plateau between surface adjusted data and reanalysis. Theor. Appl. Climatol. 109, 485–496 (2012).
You, Q., Min, J., Zhang, W., Pepin, N. & Kang, S. Comparison of multiple datasets with gridded precipitation observations over the Tibetan Plateau. Clim. Dyn. 45, 791–806 (2014).
Yao, T. et al. A review of climatic controls on δ18O in precipitation over the Tibetan Plateau: observations and simulations. Rev. Geophys 51, 525–548 (2013). This work proposes a conceptual framework of three distinct modes that control moisture transport over the Tibetan Plateau.
Gao, J., Yao, T., Masson-Delmotte, V., Steen-Larsen, H. C. & Wang, W. Collapsing glaciers threaten Asia’s water supplies. Nature 365, 19–21 (2019).
Wang, Z., Duan, A., Yang, S. & Ullah, K. Atmospheric moisture budget and its regulation on the variability of summer precipitation over the Tibetan Plateau. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 122, 614–630 (2017).
Gao, J., He, Y., Masson-Delmotte, V. & Yao, T. ENSO effects on annual variations of summer precipitation stable isotopes in Lhasa, southern Tibetan Plateau. J. Clim. 31, 1173–1182 (2018).
Turner, A. G. & Annamalai, H. Climate change and the South Asian summer monsoon. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 587–595 (2012).
Zhang, H. et al. East Asian hydroclimate modulated by the position of the westerlies during Termination I. Science 362, 580–583 (2018).
Gao, J., Masson-Delmotte, V., Risi, C., He, Y. & Yao, T. What controls precipitation δ18O in the southern Tibetan Plateau at seasonal and intra-seasonal scales? A case study at Lhasa and Nyalam. Tellus B 65, 21043 (2013).
Dong, W. et al. Summer rainfall over the southwestern Tibetan Plateau controlled by deep convection over the Indian subcontinent. Nat. Commun. 7, 10925 (2016).
Kong, W. & Chiang, J. C. H. Southward shift of westerlies intensifies the East Asian early summer rainband following El Niño. Geophys. Res. Lett. 47, e2020GL088631 (2020).
Mölg, T., Maussion, F. & Scherer, D. Mid-latitude westerlies as a driver of glacier variability in monsoonal High Asia. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 68–73 (2014).
Bolch, T. et al. The state and fate of Himalayan glaciers. Science 336, 310–314 (2012).
Azam, M. F. et al. Review of the status and mass changes of Himalayan–Karakoram glaciers. J. Glaciol. 64, 61–74 (2018).
Brun, F., Berthier, E., Wagnon, P., Kääb, A. & Treichler, D. A spatially resolved estimate of High Mountain Asia glacier mass balances from 2000 to 2016. Nat. Geosci. 10, 668–673 (2017).
Shean, D. E. et al. A systematic, regional assessment of High Mountain Asia glacier mass balance. Front. Earth Sci. 7, 363 (2020). This work presents a comprehensive assessment of glacier mass balance in the High Mountain Asia from 2000 to 2018.
Hugonnet, R. et al. Accelerated global glacier mass loss in the early twenty-first century. Nature 592, 726–731 (2021).
Dehecq, A. et al. Twenty-first century glacier slowdown driven by mass loss in High Mountain Asia. Nat. Geosci. 12, 22–27 (2019).
Miles, E. et al. Health and sustainability of glaciers in High Mountain Asia. Nat. Commun. 12, 2868 (2021).
Forsythe, N., Fowler, H. J., Li, X.-F., Blenkinsop, S. & Pritchard, D. Karakoram temperature and glacial melt driven by regional atmospheric circulation variability. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 664–670 (2017).
Bhattacharya, A. et al. High Mountain Asian glacier response to climate revealed by multi-temporal satellite observations since the 1960s. Nat. Commun. 12, 4133 (2021).
Farinotti, D., Immerzeel, W. W., de Kok, R. J., Quincey, D. J. & Dehecq, A. Manifestations and mechanisms of the Karakoram glacier anomaly. Nat. Geosci. 13, 8–16 (2020).
Zhang, G., Xie, H., Kang, S., Yi, D. & Ackley, S. Monitoring lake level changes on the Tibetan Plateau using ICESat altimetry data (2003−2009). Remote. Sens. Env. 115, 1733–1742 (2011).
Lei, Y. et al. Response of inland lake dynamics over the Tibetan Plateau to climate change. Climatic Change 125, 281–290 (2014).
Zhang, G., Chen, W. & Xie, H. Tibetan Plateau’s lake level and volume changes from NASA’s ICESat/ICESat-2 and Landsat missions. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 13107–13118 (2019).
Zhang, G., Luo, W., Chen, W. & Zheng, G. A robust but variable lake expansion on the Tibetan Plateau. Sci. Bull. 64, 1306–1309 (2019).
Biskop, S., Maussion, F., Krause, P. & Fink, M. Differences in the water-balance components of four lakes in the southern-central Tibetan Plateau. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 20, 209–225 (2016).
Zhang, G. et al. Lake volume and groundwater storage variations in Tibetan Plateau’s endorheic basin. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 5550–5560 (2017).
Zhou, J. et al. Exploring the water storage changes in the largest lake (Selin Co) over the Tibetan Plateau during 2003–2012 from a basin-wide hydrological modeling. Water Resour. Res. 51, 8060–8086 (2015).
Brun, F., Treichler, D., Shean, D. & Immerzeel, W. W. Limited contribution of glacier mass loss to the recent increase in Tibetan Plateau lake volume. Front. Earth Sci. 8, 582060 (2020).
Song, C. et al. Impact of amplified evaporation due to lake expansion on the water budget across the inner Tibetan Plateau. Int. J. Climatol. 40, 2091–2105 (2020).
Crétaux, J. F. et al. Lake volume monitoring from space. Surv. Geophys. 37, 269–305 (2016).
Yang, R. et al. Spatiotemporal variations in volume of closed lakes on the Tibetan Plateau and their climatic responses from 1976 to 2013. Climatic Change 140, 621–633 (2017).
Song, C., Huang, B. & Ke, L. Modeling and analysis of lake water storage changes on the Tibetan Plateau using multi-mission satellite data. Remote. Sens. Env. 135, 25–35 (2013).
Zhang, G., Bolch, T., Chen, W. & Crétaux, J. F. Comprehensive estimation of lake volume changes on the Tibetan Plateau during 1976–2019 and basin-wide glacier contribution. Sci. Total. Environ. 772, 145463 (2021).
Qiao, B., Zhu, L. & Yang, R. Temporal–spatial differences in lake water storage changes and their links to climate change throughout the Tibetan Plateau. Remote. Sens. Env. 222, 232–243 (2019).
Liu, Y., Chen, H., Li, H., Zhang, G. & Wang, H. What induces the interdecadal shift of the dipole patterns of summer precipitation trends over the Tibetan Plateau? Int. J. Climatol. 41, 5159–5177 (2021).
Zhang, G., Yao, T., Xie, H., Kang, S. & Lei, Y. Increased mass over the Tibetan Plateau: from lakes or glaciers? Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 2125–2130 (2013).
Yao, F. et al. Lake storage variation on the endorheic Tibetan Plateau and its attribution to climate change since the new millennium. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 064011 (2018).
Latif, Y., Ma, Y. & Ma, W. Climatic trends variability and concerning flow regime of Upper Indus Basin, Jehlum, and Kabul River basins Pakistan. Theor. Appl. Climatol. 144, 447–468 (2021).
Zhong, D. et al. Trend and change points of streamflow in the Yellow River and their attributions. J. Water Clim. Change 12, 136–151 (2020).
Cuo, L., Zhang, Y., Zhu, F. & Liang, L. Characteristics and changes of streamflow on the Tibetan Plateau: a review. J. Hydrol. Reg. Stud. 2, 49–68 (2014).
Tang, Q. et al. Streamflow change on the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau and its impacts. Chin. Sci. Bull. 64, 2807–2821 (2019).
Zhang, J. et al. Evolution and trend of water resources in Qinghai–Tibet Plateau. Proc. Chin. Acad. Sci. 34, 1264–1273 (2019).
Bibi, S. et al. Climatic and associated cryospheric, biospheric, and hydrological changes on the Tibetan Plateau: a review. Int. J. Climatol. 38, e1–e17 (2018).
Li, X., Wang, L., Chen, D., Yang, K. & Wang, A. Seasonal evapotranspiration changes (1983–2006) of four large basins on the Tibetan Plateau. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 119, 13,079–13,095 (2014).
Hewitt, K. Rock avalanches that travel onto glaciers and related developments, Karakoram Himalaya, Inner Asia. Geomorphology 103, 66–79 (2009).
Farinotti, D. et al. A consensus estimate for the ice thickness distribution of all glaciers on Earth. Nat. Geosci. 12, 168–173 (2019).
O’Neill, B. C. et al. The scenario model intercomparison project (ScenarioMIP) for CMIP6. Geosci. Model. Dev. 9, 3461–3482 (2016).
Katzenberger, A., Schewe, J., Pongratz, J. & Levermann, A. Robust increase of Indian monsoon rainfall and its variability under future warming in CMIP6 models. Earth Syst. Dynam. 12, 367–386 (2021).
Levy, H. II et al. The roles of aerosol direct and indirect effects in past and future climate change. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 118, 4521–4532 (2013).
Sooraj, K. P., Terray, P. & Mujumdar, M. Global warming and the weakening of the Asian summer monsoon circulation: assessments from the CMIP5 models. Clim. Dynam 45, 233–252 (2015).
Pfahl, S., O’Gorman, P. A. & Fischer, E. M. Understanding the regional pattern of projected future changes in extreme precipitation. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 423–427 (2017).
Meng, D. et al. Spatio-temporal variations of water vapor budget over the Tibetan Plateau in summer and its relationship with the Indo-Pacific warm pool. Atmosphere 11, 828 (2020).
Lee, S.-S., Seo, Y.-W., Ha, K.-J. & Jhun, J.-G. Impact of the western North Pacific subtropical high on the East Asian monsoon precipitation and the Indian Ocean precipitation in the boreal summertime. Asia-Pacific J. Atmos. Sci. 49, 171–182 (2013).
Zhang, H., Gao, Y., Xu, J., Xu, Y. & Jiang, Y. Decomposition of future moisture flux changes over the Tibetan Plateau projected by global and regional climate models. J. Clim. 32, 7037–7053 (2019).
Kraaijenbrink, P. D. A., Bierkens, M. F. P., Lutz, A. F. & Immerzeel, W. W. Impact of a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius on Asia’s glaciers. Nature 549, 257–260 (2017). This study provides projections of glacier mass loss in High Mountain Asia under different scenarios.
Hock, R. et al. GlacierMIP — a model intercomparison of global-scale glacier mass-balance models and projections. J. Glaciol. 65, 453–467 (2019).
Rounce, D. R., Hock, R. & Shean, D. E. Glacier mass change in High Mountain Asia through 2100 using the open-source Python Glacier Evolution Model (PyGEM). Front. Earth Sci. 7, 331 (2020).
Marzeion, B. et al. Partitioning the uncertainty of ensemble projections of global glacier mass change. Earth’s Future 8, e2019EF001470 (2020).
Kapnick, S. B., Delworth, T. L., Ashfaq, M., Malyshev, S. & Milly, P. C. D. Snowfall less sensitive to warming in Karakoram than in Himalayas due to a unique seasonal cycle. Nat. Geosci. 7, 834–840 (2014).
Yang, K. et al. Quantifying recent precipitation change and predicting lake expansion in the Inner Tibetan Plateau. Climatic Change 147, 149–163 (2018).
Guo, Y., Zhang, Y., Ma, N., Xu, J. & Zhang, T. Long-term changes in evaporation over Siling Co Lake on the Tibetan Plateau and its impact on recent rapid lake expansion. Atmos. Res. 216, 141–150 (2019).
Su, F. et al. Hydrological response to future climate changes for the major upstream river basins in the Tibetan Plateau. Glob. Planet. Change 136, 82–95 (2016).
Khanal, S. et al. Variable 21st century climate change response for rivers in High Mountain Asia at seasonal to decadal time scales. Water Resour. Res. 57, e2020WR029266 (2021).
Wijngaard, R. R. et al. Future changes in hydro-climatic extremes in the Upper Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra River basins. PLoS ONE 12, e0190224 (2017).
Zhao, Q. et al. Projecting climate change impacts on hydrological processes on the Tibetan Plateau with model calibration against the glacier inventory data and observed streamflow. J. Hydrol. 573, 60–81 (2019).
Duethmann, D., Menz, C., Jiang, T. & Vorogushyn, S. Projections for headwater catchments of the Tarim River reveal glacier retreat and decreasing surface water availability but uncertainties are large. Environ. Res. Lett. 11, 054024 (2016).
Luo, Y. et al. Contrasting streamflow regimes induced by melting glaciers across the Tien Shan–Pamir–North Karakoram. Sci. Rep. 8, 16470 (2018).
Yang, K. et al. Response of hydrological cycle to recent climate changes in the Tibetan Plateau. Clim. Change 109, 517–534 (2011).
Ni, J. et al. Simulation of the present and future projection of permafrost on the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau with statistical and machine learning models. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 126, e2020JD033402 (2020).
Zou, D. et al. A new map of permafrost distribution on the Tibetan Plateau. Cryosphere 11, 2527–2542 (2017).
Yang, M., Nelson, F. E., Shiklomanov, N. I., Guo, D. & Wan, G. Permafrost degradation and its environmental effects on the Tibetan Plateau: a review of recent research. Earth Sci Rev. 103, 31–44 (2010).
Ran, Y. et al. Mapping the permafrost stability on the Tibetan Plateau for 2005–2015. Sci. China Earth Sci. 64, 62–79 (2021).
Daout, S., Doin, M.-P., Peltzer, G., Socquet, A. & Lasserre, C. Large-scale InSAR monitoring of permafrost freeze–thaw cycles on the Tibetan Plateau. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 901–909 (2017).
Huss, M. & Hock, R. Global-scale hydrological response to future glacier mass loss. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 135–140 (2018).
Hagg, W., Hoelzle, M., Wagner, S., Mayr, E. & Klose, Z. Glacier and runoff changes in the Rukhk catchment, upper Amu-Darya basin until 2050. Glob. Planet. Change 110, 62–73 (2013).
Pohl, E., Gloaguen, R., Andermann, C. & Knoche, M. Glacier melt buffers river runoff in the Pamir Mountains. Water Resour. Res. 53, 2467–2489 (2017).
Satoh, Y. et al. Multi-model and multi-scenario assessments of Asian water futures: the Water Futures and Solutions (WFaS) initiative. Earth’s Future 5, 823–852 (2017). This work is the first assessment of Asian water futures to use multi-model and multi-scenario approaches.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). FAO AQUASTAT reports: transboundary river basin overview — Salween. FAO https://www.fao.org/3/CA2134EN/ca2134en.pdf (2011).
Laghari, A. N., Vanham, D. & Rauch, W. The Indus basin in the framework of current and future water resources management. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 16, 1063–1083 (2012).
Rasul, S. et al. A highly selective copper–indium bimetallic electrocatalyst for the electrochemical reduction of aqueous CO2 to CO. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 54, 2146–2150 (2015).
Wijngaard, R. R. et al. Climate change vs. socio-economic development: understanding the future South Asian water gap. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 22, 6297–6321 (2018).
Asoka, A., Gleeson, T., Wada, Y. & Mishra, V. Relative contribution of monsoon precipitation and pumping to changes in groundwater storage in India. Nat. Geosci. 10, 109–117 (2017).
Vinca, A. et al. The NExus Solutions Tool (NEST) v1.0: an open platform for optimizing multi-scale energy–water–land system transformations. Geosci. Model. Dev. 13, 1095–1121 (2020).
Yang, Y. C. E., Ringler, C., Brown, C. & Mondal, M. A. H. Modeling the agricultural water–energy–food nexus in the Indus river basin, Pakistan. J. Water Resour. Plan. Manag. 142, 04016062 (2016).
Amjath-Babu, T. S. et al. Integrated modelling of the impacts of hydropower projects on the water–food–energy nexus in a transboundary Himalayan river basin. Appl. Energ. 239, 494–503 (2019).
Babel, M. S. & Shinde, V. R. Identifying prominent explanatory variables for water demand prediction using artificial neural networks: a case study of Bangkok. Water Resour. Manag. 25, 1653–1676 (2011).
Awan, U. K., Tischbein, B., Conrad, C., Martius, C. & Hafeez, M. Remote sensing and hydrological measurements for irrigation performance assessments in a water user association in the lower Amu Darya river basin. Water Resour. Manag. 25, 2467–2485 (2011).
Bergeron, J. et al. Assessing the capabilities of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission for large lake water surface elevation monitoring under different wind conditions. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sc. 24, 5985–6000 (2020).
Shepherd, T. G. Atmospheric circulation as a source of uncertainty in climate change projections. Nat. Geosci. 7, 703–708 (2014).
Risi, C., Bony, S., Vimeux, F. & Jouzel, J. Water-stable isotopes in the LMDZ4 general circulation model: model evaluation for present-day and past climates and applications to climatic interpretations of tropical isotopic records. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 115, D12118 (2010).
Trenberth, K. E. Changes in precipitation with climate change. Clim. Res. 47, 123–138 (2011).
Jennings, K. S., Winchell, T. S., Livneh, B. & Molotch, N. P. Spatial variation of the rain–snow temperature threshold across the northern hemisphere. Nat. Commun. 9, 1148 (2018).
Wang, A. et al. Diagnostic and model dependent uncertainty of simulated Tibetan permafrost area. Cryosphere Discuss. 10, 287–306 (2016).
McClelland, J. W., Holmes, R. M., Peterson, B. J. & Stieglitz, M. Increasing river discharge in the Eurasian Arctic: consideration of dams, permafrost thaw, and fires as potential agents of change. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 109, D18102 (2004).
Rogger, M. et al. Impact of mountain permafrost on flow path and runoff response in a high alpine catchment. Water Resour. Res. 53, 1288–1308 (2017).
Janke, J. R. & Bolch, T. in Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences 2nd edn, Vol. 4, 75–118 (Elsevier, 2021).
Harrison, S., Jones, D., Anderson, K., Shannon, S. & Betts, R. A. Is ice in the Himalayas more resilient to climate change than we thought? Geografiska Annaler Ser. A Phys. Geogr. 103, 1–7 (2021).
Wang, G., Hu, H. & Li, T. The influence of freeze–thaw cycles of active soil layer on surface runoff in a permafrost watershed. J. Hydrol. 375, 438–449 (2009).
Gao, T., Zhang, T., Cao, L., Kang, S. & Sillanpää, M. Reduced winter runoff in a mountainous permafrost region in the northern Tibetan Plateau. Cold Reg. Sci. Technol. 126, 36–43 (2016).
Wang, J. et al. Recent global decline in endorheic basin water storages. Nat. Geosci. 11, 926–932 (2018).
Li, Y., Su, F., Chen, D. & Tang, Q. Atmospheric water transport to the endorheic tibetan plateau and its effect on the hydrological status in the region. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 124, 12864–12881 (2019).
Andresen, C. G. et al. Soil moisture and hydrology projections of the permafrost region — a model intercomparison. Cryosphere 14, 445–459 (2020).
Li, W. et al. Influence of Tibetan Plateau snow cover on East Asian atmospheric circulation at medium-range time scales. Nat. Commun. 9, 4243 (2018).
Zhao, L. et al. Soil organic carbon and total nitrogen pools in permafrost zones of the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau. Sci. Rep. 8, 3656 (2018).
RGI Consortium. Randolph Glacier Inventory — A Dataset of Global Glacier Outlines: Version 6.0 (Global Land Ice Measurements from Space, 2017).
Veh, G., Korup, O. & Walz, A. Hazard from Himalayan glacier lake outburst floods. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 117, 907–912 (2019).
Allen, S. K., Zhang, G., Wang, W., Yao, T. & Bolch, T. Potentially dangerous glacial lakes across the Tibetan Plateau revealed using a large-scale automated assessment approach. Sci. Bull. 64, 435–445 (2019).
Kääb, A. et al. Massive collapse of two glaciers in western Tibet in 2016 after surge-like instability. Nat. Geosci. 11, 114–120 (2018).
Li, Y., Su, F., Chen, D. & Tang, Q. Atmospheric water transport to the endorheic Tibetan Plateau and its effect on the hydrological status in the region. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 124, 12864–12881 (2020).
Schiemann, R., Lüthi, D. & Schär, C. Seasonality and interannual variability of the westerly jet in the Tibetan Plateau region. J. Clim. 22, 2940–2957 (2009).
Wei, W., Zhang, R., Wen, M., Kim, B.-J. & Nam, J.-C. Interannual variation of the south asian high and its relation with Indian and East Asian summer monsoon rainfall. J. Clim. 28, 2623–2634 (2015).
Zhao, Y. & Zhou, T. Interannual variability of precipitation recycle ratio over the Tibetan Plateau. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 126, e2020JD033733 (2021).
Wu, G. et al. Thermal controls on the Asian summer monsoon. Sci. Rep. 2, 404 (2012).
The authors’ research work was supported by the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research (STEP) programme (2019QZKK0201,2019QZKK0208) and the Strategic Priority Research Program (A) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA20060201, XDA20100300). The authors are listed in alphabetic order by family name, except for the first author.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information
Nature Reviews Earth & Environment thanks Jida Wang, who co-reviewed with Fangfang Yao, Anamika Barua and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Yao, T., Bolch, T., Chen, D. et al. The imbalance of the Asian water tower. Nat Rev Earth Environ 3, 618–632 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-022-00299-4
This article is cited by
Nature Geoscience (2023)
Anthropogenic forcing and Pacific internal variability-determined decadal increase in summer precipitation over the Asian water tower
npj Climate and Atmospheric Science (2023)
The rapid vegetation line shift in response to glacial dynamics and climate variability in Himalaya between 2000 and 2014
Environmental Monitoring and Assessment (2023)
WRF gray-zone dynamical downscaling over the Tibetan Plateau during 1999–2019: model performance and added value
Climate Dynamics (2023)
Influencing mechanism and hydrogeological implications of water level fluctuation of lakes in the northern Qaidam Basin, Qinghai-Tibet Plateau
Journal of Oceanology and Limnology (2023)