Rapid permafrost thaw and precipitation regime shifts are altering surface and subsurface hydrological processes in arctic and subarctic watersheds. Long-term data (40 years) from two large permafrost watersheds in northeastern China, the Tahe River and Duobukuer River watersheds, indicate that winter baseflows are characterized by significant positive trends of 1.7% and 2.5%·year−1
, respectively. Winter baseflows exhibited statistically significant positive correlations with mean annual air temperature and the thawing index, an indicator of permafrost degradation, for both watersheds, as well as the increasing annual rainfall fraction of precipitation for the Duobukuer River watershed. Winter baseflows were characterized by a breakpoint in 1989, which lagged behind the mean annual air temperature breakpoint by only two years. The statistical analyses suggest that the increases in winter baseflow are likely related to enhanced groundwater storage and winter groundwater discharge caused by permafrost thaw and are potentially also due to an increase in the wet season rainfall. These hydrological trends are first apparent in marginal areas of permafrost distribution and are expected to shift northward towards formerly continuous permafrost regions in the context of future climate warming.
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