Many observations in and model simulations for northern basins have confirmed an increased streamflow from degrading permafrost, while the streamflow has declined in the source area of the Yellow River (SAYR, above the Tanag hydrological station) on the northeastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, West China. How and to what extent does the degrading permafrost change the flow in the SAYR? According to seasonal regimes of hydrological processes, the SAYR is divided into four sub-basins with varied permafrost extents to detect impacts of permafrost degradation on the Yellow River streamflow. Results show that permafrost degradation may have released appreciable meltwater for recharging groundwater. The potential release rate of ground-ice melt-water in the Sub-basin 1 (the headwater area of the Yellow River (HAYR), above the Huangheyan hydrological station) is the highest (5.6 mm per year), contributing to 14.4% of the annual Yellow River streamflow at Huangheyan. Seasonal/intra- and annual shifts of streamflow, a possible signal for the marked alteration of hydrological processes by permafrost degradation, is observed in the HAYR, but the shifts are minor in other sub-basins in the SAYR. Improved hydraulic connectivity is expected to occur during and after certain degrees of permafrost degradation. Direct impacts of permafrost degradation on the annual Yellow River streamflow in the SAYR at Tanag, i.e., from the meltwater of ground-ice, is estimated at 4.9% that of the annual Yellow River discharge at Tanag, yet with a high uncertainty, due to neglecting of the improved hydraulic connections from permafrost degradation and the flow generation conditions for the ground-ice meltwater. Enhanced evapotranspiration, substantial weakening of the Southwest China Autumn Rain, and anthropogenic disturbances may largely account for the declined streamflow in the SAYR.
- Permafrost degradation
- Source area of Yellow River (SAYR)
- Streamflow patterns
- Warming climate