Climate warming benefits alpine vegetation growth in Three-River Headwater Region, China

Yanfu Bai, Cancan Guo, A. Allan Degen, Anum Ali Ahmad, Wenyin Wang, Tao Zhang, Wenyan Li, Lin Ma, Mei Huang, Haijun Zeng, Lingyan Qi, Ruijun Long, Zhanhuan Shang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Environmental factors that drive vegetation change in the Three River Headwater Region (TRHR) on Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau are largely unknown. In particular, the response of alpine grasslands in the TRHR to changing climate and ecological compensations is still poorly understood. Here, we present data on vegetation trends of the TRHR from 1982 to 2015 by employing multiple high-resolution satellite data to determine the mean annual normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). In addition, spatio-temporal changes in climate were monitored by long-term climate data collection and by using the distributed modeling system. It emerged that: 1) there was a weak increasing trend, albeit not significant, in overall TRHR NDVI, ranging between 0.23 and 0.27; whereas, grassland NDVI ranged between 0.43 and 0.50, and displayed a significant (r2adj = 0.46; P = 0.004) linear increase with year; 2) annual average temperature was below 0 °C and increased linearly (r2 adj = 0.60; P = 0.01) at a rate of 0.06 °C/yr from 2000 to 2015, which was almost four times faster than the rate of global warming; and 3) average rainfall was 493 mm/yr, with no significant yearly trend. In conclusion, climate warming enhanced vegetation growth and recovery in the TRHR since 2000; whereas, rainfall did not show a trend. However, vegetation changes on the spatial scale demonstrated zoning and segmentation effects. Consequently, for restoration of degraded lands in the TRHR, effective one-to-one ecological conservation projects, which are particular to an eco-fragile area, should be implemented. In addition, these results are important for regional planning of livestock stocking rates and animal husbandry systems, which can have great impact on the livelihood of the people in the area.

Original languageEnglish
Article number140574
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 10 Nov 2020


  • Ecological conservation
  • High-resolution image
  • Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)
  • Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau
  • Remote sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


Dive into the research topics of 'Climate warming benefits alpine vegetation growth in Three-River Headwater Region, China'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this