Land (Oct 2021)

High Mountains Becoming Wetter While Deserts Getting Drier in Xinjiang, China since the 1980s

  • Yong Zhang,
  • Chengbang An,
  • Luyu Liu,
  • Yanzhen Zhang,
  • Chao Lu,
  • Wensheng Zhang

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 10, no. 11
p. 1131


Read online

Climate change has been thought to drive the accelerated expansion of global drylands. However, many studies reveal that Arid Central Asia (ACA) has been warming and wetting in recent decades, representing an anomalous response to global climate change. Given that ACA is composed of complex ecosystems and landforms, it is not clear whether or not this trend is uniform in this topographically heterogenous region. Here, we integrate the Google Earth Engine and ERA5-Land reanalysis data to study the trend of changes, since the 1980s, in temperature and precipitation in the Tianshan Mountains and the surrounding deserts, collectively referred to as the Tianshan and Desert Ecozone, which is in Northwest China. Our results show that only 20.4% of this area is becoming both warmer and wetter, which occurs mainly in the altitudes above 2800 m (Tianshan Ecozone). All three alpine ecosystems (coniferous forests, alpine meadow, and nival zone) in the Tianshan Ecozone exhibit similar warming and wetting trends, including of elevation-dependent wetting on the specific altitude range. In contrast, the low-lying oasis where human activities are mostly concentrated is undergoing warming and drying, which will face a greater threat of drought projected under three emissions scenarios (SSP1-2.6, SSP2-4.5, and SSP5-8.5). These results highlight the importance of considering the differences of climate change in different altitude gradients and different ecosystems when studying climate change in drylands.