The low hydrologic resilience of Asian Water Tower basins to adverse climatic changes

Baolin Xue, David Helman, Guoqiang Wang*, Chong Yu Xu, Jingfeng Xiao, Tingxi Liu, Lei Wang, Xiuping Li, Limin Duan, Huimin Lei

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Climate change has a significant impact on the runoff of basins in cold, dry areas. The quantification of regional ecohydrological responses to climate change such as warming and drought is essential for establishing proper water resource management schemes. We propose a simple and novel method based on the Budyko framework to evaluate the hydrologic resilience of 16 basins that conform the Asian Water Tower in the Tibetan Plateau (TP). Our method defines two metrics within the Budyko domain – tolerance (ψ) and plasticity (φ) – that characterize the hydrologic resilience of a basin. Based on an ecohydrological point of view, a basin is considered hydrologically resilient if ψ and φ are both greater than 1 or its φ is negative and ψ is greater than 1. Our results show that ψ varies between 0.27 and 0.74, with an average value of 0.45 and φ varies between 2 and 16.33, with an average value of 6.90, for 14 out of the 16 basins. Only two basins – Taohe and Datonghe – had negative φ (-11.67 and -8.11, respectively) and ψ greater than 1 (2.26 and 19.58, respectively), suggesting that these two are the only basins with a hydrologic resilience to climatic warming/drying in the TP. Within the non-resilient basins, we found vegetation to play a key role in the level of tolerance and plasticity indicating that basins with a larger vegetation cover display a lower capability to adapt to adverse climatic changes. Following these results, we call for afforestation efforts to be carefully considered in cold, dry areas. The proposed method and conclusions drawn by this study may help predict the hydrologic responses to future adverse climatic conditions.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number103996
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

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© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Asian water tower
  • Basin
  • Climate change
  • Hydrologic resilience
  • Plasticity, Tibetan plateau
  • Tolerance


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