Laboratory for Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics


Directed by  Dr. Hongjie Xie , Professor

Remote Sensing The Third Pole: Tibetan Plateau


The Tibetan Plateau (TP) in central Asia has an average elevation of more than 4000 m asl and an area of approximately 2,500,000 km2, and is now called ^the Third Pole ̄ of the Earth and the ^Asian water tower ̄ with the largest ice mass outside the north and south polar regions. The 36,800 glaciers on the TP cover an area of 49,873 km2 (~ 2% of the total area) and are distributed over the major mountain ranges (Fig. 1). These glaciers provide fresh water resources for over 1 billion people through feeding the river systems. As a whole, the TP has undergone warming in the past three decades, especially in winter; the temperature rise of 0.3 <C per decade is twice the global warming rate. The environmental influence of global warming on the TP is evident, including accelerating glaciers melt throughout almost the entire TP, permafrost degradation, and increasing temperature extremes. There are more than 1500 lakes in the TP and most of them are glacier lakes, meaning snow/glacier-melt water is the major source of water for those lakes. It is impractical to monitor all glaciers, snow cover, and lake changes over the entire TP using field based point measurements, satellite remote sensing provides a powerful way to monitor and study their changes.


Fig. 1. (upper) Location of Tibetan Plateau with regional outline (black polygon), major mountain ranges (yellow lines), and the largest rivers (blue lines). Elevation data are from NASA's SRTM DEM. Blue polygons represent 261 major (large) lakes delineated from mosackied MODIS snow cover images (kindly provided by Tiangang Liang at Lanzhou University, China). (bottom) 84% of lakes with lake level increase (0.23m/year). (Source: Zhang et al., 2011)



The objective of the LRSG group for the TP study, in collaboration with Lanzhou University, Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, China University of Geosciences, and East China Institute of Technology, is:

Sustainable water resources in Tibetan Plateau, through studying change of glacier lakes, glaciers, and snow cover, using remote sensing, field-based measurements, and modeling


SPIE Newsroom highlights our recent works (December 8, 2011):

Rising lake levels indicate accelerated glacier melting




Project Title Funding Source
Dynamic monitoring and evaluation between grassland ecological environment and snow/ice and lakes on Tibetan Plateau National Science Foundation of China/Chinese Oversea Collaborative Fund
Remote sensing monitoring and early warning system on snow-caused disasters for the pastoral agriculture area in Tibetan Plateau, China Chinese Department of Education and Lanzhou University
Lake level and snow cover study of Tibetan Plateau State Key Laboratory Breeding Base of Nuclear Resources and Environment at East China Institute of Technology. China Scholarship Council





(*first author student, **first author postdoc/visiting professor)



*Wang, W., X. Huang, J. Deng, H. Xie, and T. Liang, 2015. Spatio-Temporal Change of Snow Cover and Its Response to Climate over the Tibetan Plateau Based on an Improved Daily Cloud-Free Snow Cover Product. Remote Sensing, 2015, 7(1):169-194 (link)

Zhang G., H. Xie, T. Yao, H. Li, and S. Duan, 2014. Quantitative water resources assessment of Qinghai Lake basin using snowmelt runoff model (SRM). J. of Hydrology. doi: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2014.08.022 (link).

Zhang G., T. Yao, H. Xie, J. Qin, Q. Ye, Y. Dai, and R. Guo, 2014. Estimating surface temperature changes of lakes in the Tibetan Plateau using MODIS LST data. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmos., 119, doi:10.1003/2014/JD021615 (link).

Chu, D., H. Xie, P. Wang, J. La, J. Guo, Y. Qiu, and Z. Zheng, 2014. Snow cover variation over the Tibetan Plateau from MODIS and comparison with ground observations. Journal of Applied Remote Sensing, 8(1), 084690, doi:10.1117/1.JRS.8.084690 (link)

*Chen, S., T. Liang, H. Xie, Q. Feng, X. Huang, and H. Yu, 2014. Interrelation among climate factors, snow cover, grassland, vegetation, and lake in the Nam Co basin of the Tibetan Plateau. Journal of Applied Remote Sensing, 8(1), 084694, doi:10.1117/1.JRS.8.084694 (link)

Zhang, G., T. Yao, H. Xie, K. Zhang, and F. Zhu, 2014. The state and abundance of lakes across the Tibetan Plateau. Chinese Science Bulletin. DOI 10.1007/s11434-014-0258-x (link)

*Feng, Q., T. Liang, X. Huang, H. Lin, H. Xie, and J. Ren, 2013. Characteristics of global potential natural vegetation distribution from 1911 to 2000 based on comprehensive sequential classification system approach. Grassland Science, Vol 58: 87-99, doi: 10.1111/grs.12016 (link).

Zhang, G., T. Yao, H. Xie, S. Kang, and Y. Lei, 2013. Increased mass over the Tibetan Plateau: from lakes or glaciers?. Geophysical Research Letters. doi: 10.1002/grl.50462 (link).

Wang, W., T. Liang, X. Huang, Q. Feng, H. Xie, X. Liu, M. Chen, and X. Wang, 2013. Early warning of snow-caused disasters in pastoral areas on Tibetan Plateau. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences. Vol 13(6): 1411-1425

Huang, X., H. Xie, G. Zhang, and T. Liang, 2013. A novel solution for outlier removal of ICESat altimetry data: a case study in the Yili watershed, China. Frontiers of Earth Science, doi:10.1007/s11707-013-0362-2 (link).

Zhang, G., H. Xie, T. Yao, and S. Kang, 2013. Water balance estimates of ten greatest lakes in China using ICESat and Landsat data. Chinese Science Bulletin, doi:10.1007/s11434-013-5818-y (link)

*Zhang, G., H. Xie, T. Yao, T. Liang, and S. Kang. Snow cover dynamics of four lake basins over Tibetan Plateau using time series MODIS data (2001-2010). Water Resources Research. 48, W10529, doi:10.1029/2012WR011971 (link). This paper was among The Most Accessed/Viewed Articles in all WRR papers in 2012.

*Zhang, G., H. Xie, S. Duan, M. Tian, and D. Yi, 2011. Water level variation of Lake Qinghai from satellite and in-situ measurements under climate change. Journal of Applied Remote Sensing. doi:10.1117/1.3601363. (link)

*Zhang, G., H. Xie, S. Kang, D. Yi, and S.F. Ackley, 2011. Monitoring lake level changes on the Tibetan Plateau using ICESat altimetry data (2003-2009). Remote Sensing of Environment. Vol.115(7): 1733-1742. doi:10.1016/j.rse.2011.03.005 (link)

*Huang, X.D., H. Xie, T.G. Liang, D. Yi, 2011. Estimating vertical error of SRTM and map-based DEMs using ICESat altimetry data in eastern Tibetan Plateau. International J. of Remote Sensing, DOI: 10.1080/01431161.2010.495092 (link).



(Presentations or proceedings)


*Bi, Y. and H. Xie, 2014. Interrelations between snow cover and climate and topographic factors in upper Heihe River basin, Northwestern China. AGU fall meeting, San Francisco, CA, December 15-19.

Zhang, G., T. Yao, and H. Xie, 2014. Lake¨s state and aboundance across the Tibetan Plateau. AGU fall meeting, San Francisco, CA, December 15-19.

Xie, H., G. Zhang, and T. Yao, 2014. Lake status and abundance over Tibetan Plateau, 1970-2010. 2014 Dragon 3 mid-term results international symposium, Chengdu, China, May 26-29.

*Bi, Y. and H. Xie, 2013. Spatiotemporal changes of snow cover and its correlation with temperature and precipitation over the upstream area of Heihe River basin based on MODIS snow cover product from hydrological year 2001 to 2012. AGU fall meeting, San Francisco, CA, December 9-13.

Xie, H., G. Zhang, T. Yao, H. Li, S. Duan, 2013. Quantitative water resources assessment of Qinghai Lake basin using Snowmelt Runoff model (SRM). AGU fall meeting, San Francisco, CA, December 9-13.

Xie, H., G. Zhang, etc., 2013. Snow cover dynamics of four lake basins over Tibetan Plateau using time series MODIS data (2001-2010). The First Chinese Meeting on Snow Remote Sensing, Lanzhou, Aug 1-2.

Xie, H., G. Zhang, etc., 2013. Increased mass over Tibetan Plateau: from Glacier or Lakes?, CPGIS Geoinformatics conference, Kaifeng, China, Jun 20-22.

*Zhang, G., H., Xie, and G. Yang, 2011. Seasonal snow cover variations in the Nam Co basin of of Tibetan Plateau using MODIS data. 2011 19th International Conference on Geoinformatics. doi: 10.1109/GeoInformatics.2011.5980902.(link)

*Zhang, G., H., Xie, and M. Zhu, 2010. Water level changes of two Tibetan lakes Nam Co and Selin Co from ICESat altimetry data. 2010 second IITA International Conference on Geoscience and Remote sensing (IITA-GRS), doi:10.1109/IITA-GRS.2010.5602644 (link) 

*Zhang, G., H. Xie, S. Kang, S.F. Ackley, 2010. Lake level changes on the Tibetan. AGU Fall meeting, San Francisco, CA, December 13-17.  

Xie, H., Y. Gao, X. Huang, and T. Liang, 2009. MODIS and ICESat-based snow cover and glacier changes across three rivers headstream region of Tibetan Plateau International Workshop on Environmental Change, Glacial and Hydrological Processes, and Related Consequence in the Third Pole Region, August 15-20, 2009, Beijing-Lhasa, China

*Huang, X., H. Xie, T. Laing, and D. Yi, 2008. Accuracy estimation of SRTM and map-based DEMs using ICESat elevation data in Tibetan Plateau. AGU Fall meeting, San Francisco, CA, December 15-19.

Xie, H. and Y. Gao, 2008. Snow cover spatial and temporal variability across three rivers headstream region of Tibetan Plateau based on MODIS and AMSR-E data (2000-2008). AGU Fall meeting, San Francisco, CA, December 15-19.



Last Updated: March 2015