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Thermal hazards zonation and permafrost change over the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau



The Qinghai–Tibet Plateau is the largest permafrost region at low latitude in the world. Climate warming may lead to permafrost temperature rise, ground ice thawing and permafrost degradation, thus inducing thermal hazards. In this paper, the ARCGIS method is used to calculate the changes of ground ice content and active layer thickness under different climate scenarios on the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau, in the coming decades, thus providing the basis for hazards zonation. The method proposed by Nelson in 2002 was used for hazards zonation after revision, which was based on the changes of active layer thickness and ground ice content. The study shows that permafrost exhibits different degrees of degradation in the different climate scenarios. The thawing of ground ice and the change from low-temperature to high-temperature permafrost were the main permafrost degradation modes. This process, accompanied with thinning permafrost, increases the active layer thickness and the northward movement of the permafrost southern boundary. By 2099, the permafrost area decreases by 46.2, 16.01 and 8.5% under scenarios A2, A1B and B1, respectively. The greatest danger zones are located mainly to the south of the West Kunlun Mountains, the middle of the Qingnan Valley, the southern piedmont of the Gangdise and Nyainqentanglha Mountains and some regions in the southern piedmont of the Himalayas. The Qinghai–Tibet Plateau permafrost region is in the low-risk category. Climate warming exacerbates the development of thermal hazards. In 2099, the permafrost region is mainly in the middle-risk category, and only a small portion is in the low-risk category.


  • Active layer
  • Civil Engineering
  • Environmental management
  • Geophysics/Geodesy
  • Geotechnical Engineering & Applied Earth Sciences
  • Ground ice
  • Hazards zonation
  • Hydrogeology
  • permafrost
  • Thaw


Zhang Z, Wu Q. Thermal hazards zonation and permafrost change over the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau[J]. Natural Hazards, 2012, 61(2): 403–423. doi:10.1007/s11069-011-9923-4

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