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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-467
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-467
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 23 Oct 2019

Submitted as: research article | 23 Oct 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Survival of the Qaidam Mega-Lake System under Mid-Pliocene Climates and its Restoration under Future Climates

Dieter Scherer Dieter Scherer
  • Chair of Climatology, Technische Universität Berlin, Berlin, 12165, Germany

Abstract. The Qaidam basin in the north of the Tibetan Plateau, has undergone drastic environmental changes during the last millions of years. During the Pliocene, the basin contained a freshwater mega-lake system although the surrounding regions showed increasingly arid climates. With the onset of the Pleistocene glaciations, lakes began to shrink, and finally disappeared almost completely. Today, hyperarid climate conditions prevail in the low-altitude parts of the basin. The question, how the lake system was able to withstand the regional trend of aridification for millions of years, remained enigmatic, so far. This study reveals that the mean water balance of the basin is nearly zero under present climate conditions, and positive during warmer, less dry years. This finding provides a physically based explanation, how mid-Pliocene climates could sustain the mega-lake system, and that near-future climates not much different from present conditions could cause rising lake levels and expanding lake areas, and may result in restoration of the Qaidam mega-lake system over geological time scales. The study reveals that a region discussed as being an analogue to Mars due to its hyperarid environments is at a tipping point under present climate conditions, and may switch from negative values that have prevailed during the last 2.6 million years to positive ones in the near future.

Dieter Scherer
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Short summary
During the Pliocene, the Qaidam basin on the Tibetan Plateau contained a mega-lake system. During the Pleistocene, it disappeared almost completely. Today, hyperarid climates prevail in the low-altitude parts of the basin. This study reveals that today's mean water balance of the Qaidam basin is nearly zero, and is positive during warmer, less dry years. The results explain, how the mega-lake system could survive for long time in the past, and could eventually be restored in the future.
During the Pliocene, the Qaidam basin on the Tibetan Plateau contained a mega-lake system....
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