Lakes on the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau (QTP) have experienced significant changes, especially the prevailing lake expansion since 2000 in the endorheic basin. The influence of permafrost thawing on lake expansion is significant but rarely considered in previous studies. In this study, based on Landsat images and permafrost field data, the spatial-temporal area changes of lakes of more than 5 km2
in the endorheic basin on the QTP during 2000–2017 is examined and the impact of permafrost degradation on lake expansion is discussed. The main results are that permafrost characteristics and its degradation trend have close relationships with lake changes. Lake expansion in the endorheic basin showed a southwest–northeast transition from shrinking to stable to rapidly expanding, which corresponded well with the permafrost distribution from island-discontinuous to seasonally frozen ground to continuous permafrost. A dramatic lake expansion in continuous permafrost showed significant spatial differences; lakes expanded significantly in northern and eastern continuous permafrost with a higher ground ice content but slightly in southern continuous permafrost with a lower ground ice content. This spatial pattern was mainly attributed to the melting of ground ice in shallow permafrost associated with accelerating permafrost degradation. Whereas, some lakes in the southern zones of island-discontinuous permafrost were shrinking, which was mainly because the extended taliks arising from the intensified permafrost degradation have facilitated surface water and suprapermafrost groundwater discharge to subpermafrost groundwater and thereby drained the lakes. Based on observation and simulated data, the melting of ground ice at shallow depths below the permafrost table accounted for 21.2% of the increase in lake volume from 2000 to 2016.
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