The Tibetan Plateau is a sensitive area and natural laboratory for global climate change. Under global warming, the water cycle over the plateau has intensified, with not only an increase in precipitation, evapotranspiration and surface runoff, but also glacial retreat, elevated snow melt, and a shortening ice duration. These variations have led to frequent natural disasters, especially over mountainous regions. Thus, an accurate estimation of the intensity and variation of each component of the water cycle is an urgent scientific question for the assessment of plateau environmental changes.
“A 3D comprehensive observation network has been successfully established over different regions covering all kinds of landscapes, including bare soil, alpine steppe, grassland, forest, desert, glaciers, lakes, and so on. And, in addition to traditional automatic weather stations, devices such as eddy covariance systems, large aperture scintillometers, planetary boundary layer towers, wind profilers, microwave radiometers, radiosonde systems, and cloud/precipitation radars have been installed or will be constructed,” says Professor Yaoming Ma from the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences—one of the authors of a Perspective article on the network, recently published in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Letters. “The network is important for understanding the physical mechanism involved in the land–atmosphere and boundary-layer processes over the TP, and for numerically simulating them,” Professor Ma further explains.
The establishment of this observational network has been supported by many agencies and large projects, but especially the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research Program. The measurements will provide detailed information that can be used to better understand the transfer of water, heat and CO2 between the land and atmosphere, as well as demonstrate their significance for the regional circulation of water and heat, and for validating and evaluating satellite retrieval algorithms and numerical simulations, especially in the context of regional climate change over mountainous regions.
More importantly, the continually acquired massive data and new devices will provide an important basis for understanding the turbulence characteristics of the atmospheric boundary layer, as well as its convective activities and cloud microphysics, ultimately helping those living in the region to cope with the warming and wetting trend of the plateau. Certainly, the network will aid the promotion and development of boundary layer meteorology in the region, and serve as a basis for the study of environmental changes and the prevention of natural hazards over the Tibetan Plateau.