Past, present, and future geo-biosphere interactions on the Tibetan Plateau and implications for permafrost

Todd A. Ehlers*, Deliang Chen, Erwin Appel, Tobias Bolch, Fahu Chen, Bernhard Diekmann, Michaela A. Dippold, Markus Giese, Georg Guggenberger, Hui Wen Lai, Xin Li, Junguo Liu, Yongqin Liu, Yaoming Ma, Georg Miehe, Volker Mosbrugger, Andreas Mulch, Shilong Piao, Antje Schwalb, Lonnie G. ThompsonZhongbo Su, Hang Sun, Tandong Yao, Xiaoxin Yang, Kun Yang, Liping Zhu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Interactions between the atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere are most active in the critical zone, a region extending from the tops of trees to the top of unweathered bedrock. Changes in one or more of these spheres can result in a cascade of changes throughout the system in ways that are often poorly understood. Here we investigate how past and present climate change have impacted permafrost, hydrology, and ecosystems on the Tibetan Plateau. We do this by compiling existing climate, hydrologic, cryosphere, biosphere, and geologic studies documenting change over decadal to glacial-interglacial timescales and longer. Our emphasis is on showing present-day trends in environmental change and how plateau ecosystems have largely flourished under warmer and wetter periods in the geologic past. We identify two future pathways that could lead to either a favorable greening or unfavorable degradation and desiccation of plateau ecosystems. Both paths are plausible given the available evidence. We contend that the key to which pathway future generations experience lies in what, if any, human intervention measures are implemented. We conclude with suggested management strategies that can be implemented to facilitate a future greening of the Tibetan Plateau.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104197
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Degradation
  • Ecology
  • Global change
  • Management
  • Permafrost
  • Tibetan Plateau

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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