Impact process and mechanism of summertime rainfall on thermal-moisture regime of active layer in permafrost regions of central Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Sci Total Environ. 2021 Nov 20;796:148970. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.148970. Epub 2021 Jul 9.


Rainfall can potentially change upper thermal-moisture boundary conditions and influence the hydrological and thermal state of the active layer in permafrost regions. Studying the relationship between rainfall and ground temperature represents an emerging issue in permafrost engineering and environment but the interactive mechanisms of rainfall and the active layer are not well understood. This study aims to analyze the effects and mechanisms of summertime rainfall on the thermal-moisture dynamics of the active layer by field observations and simulation. The observation data demonstrated that frequent light rainfall events had a minor impact on the active layer, whereas consecutive rainfall events and heavy rainfall events had significant effects on soil temperature and water content. Moreover, the soil temperatures were more susceptible to summertime rainfall events. These rapidly cooled the shallow ground and delayed the temperature rise. Summertime rainfall significantly increased the surface latent heat flux, but decreased the net radiation, sensible heat flux, and soil surface heat flux. Rainfall also enhanced the amount of downward liquid water and water vapor, but the impact of rainfall on the increase in the convective heat transfer of the liquid water was lower than the decreases in the heat conduction flux, latent heat flux by vapor diffusion, and heat flux by convection of vapor. Thus, the reduction in the total soil heat flux caused by rainfall directly leads to a cooling effect on the soil temperature and delays the increase in soil temperature. The cooling effect of rainfall events may mitigate the warming rate and maintain the active layer at a relatively low temperature. The results provide new insights into understanding the inner mechanisms of the effect of rainfall on the active layer and on the possible long-term change trends of permafrost under increasing precipitation in the central Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Keywords: Active layer; Heat transfer; Permafrost; Qinghai–Tibet Plateau; Rainfall; Surface energy balance.

MeSH terms

  • Hydrology
  • Permafrost*
  • Soil
  • Temperature
  • Tibet


  • Soil