Oceanic climate changes threaten the sustainability of Asia's water tower. Academic Article uri icon


  • Water resources sustainability in High Mountain Asia (HMA) surrounding the Tibetan Plateau (TP)-known as Asia's water tower-has triggered widespread concerns because HMA protects millions of people against water stress1,2. However, the mechanisms behind the heterogeneous trends observed in terrestrial water storage (TWS) over the TP remain poorly understood. Here we use a Lagrangian particle dispersion model and satellite observations to attribute about 1Gt of monthly TWS decline in the southern TP during 2003-2016 to westerlies-carried deficit in precipitation minus evaporation (PME) from the southeast North Atlantic. We further show that HMA blocks the propagation of PME deficit into the central TP, causing a monthly TWS increase by about 0.5Gt. Furthermore, warming-induced snow and glacial melt as well as drying-induced TWS depletion in HMA weaken the blocking of HMA's mountains, causing persistent northward expansion of the TP's TWS deficit since 2009. Future projections under two emissions scenarios verified by satellite observations during 2020-2021 indicate that, by the end of the twenty-first century, up to 84% (for scenario SSP245) and 97% (for scenario SSP585) of the TP could be afflicted by TWS deficits. Our findings indicate a trajectory towards unsustainable water systems in HMA that could exacerbate downstream water stress.

published proceedings

  • Nature

altmetric score

  • 190.238

author list (cited authors)

  • Zhang, Q., Shen, Z., Pokhrel, Y., Farinotti, D., Singh, V. P., Xu, C., Wu, W., & Wang, G.

citation count

  • 12

complete list of authors

  • Zhang, Qiang||Shen, Zexi||Pokhrel, Yadu||Farinotti, Daniel||Singh, Vijay P||Xu, Chong-Yu||Wu, Wenhuan||Wang, Gang

publication date

  • March 2023

published in