Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 75 ›› Issue (7): 1359-1372.doi: 10.11821/dlxb202007003

• Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Human Activities • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Relief degree of land surface and its geographical meanings in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, China

FENG Zhiming1,2,3(), LI Wenjun1,2, LI Peng1,2,3(), XIAO Chiwei1,2   

  1. 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    3. Key Laboratory of Carrying Capacity Assessment for Resource and Environment, MNR, Beijing 101149, China
  • Received:2019-08-22 Revised:2020-05-13 Online:2020-07-25 Published:2020-09-25
  • Contact: LI Peng;
  • Supported by:
    The Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research(2019QZKK1006);Youth Innovation Promotion Association of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(CAS2020055);China Postdoctoral Science Foundation(2019M660777)


Relief degree of land surface (RDLS) is one of the key indicators in the fields of suitability assessment of human settlements (SAHS) as well as resources and environmental carrying capacity (RECC) evaluation at the regional scale. Currently, there is still a lack of in-depth research on the determination of the optimal window size for the RDLS calculation and evaluation and its correlation analysis with two topographical parameters, e.g., elevation and relative height difference. These issues further affect the effective representation of the RDLS in the delineation of local to regional topographic relief. Therefore, an objective understanding of the RDLS in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau of China greatly contributes to promoting the construction of national ecological security barrier and regional green development. In this study, based on the 30 m Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) Global Digital Elevation Model (GDEM Version 2), the optimal window size for calculating and evaluating the RDLS in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau was accurately determined using the average change-point method, and the first 30 m RDLS thematic map for the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau was generated accordingly. Next, the interrelation between the RDLS and elevation and relative height difference was quantitatively examined. Based on that, the effective representation or geographical meanings of the RDLS in the plateau were defined. The results/conclusions include: (1) The optimum window size for the RDLS calculation and evaluation in the study area based on the 30 m GDEM is a rectangular neighborhood of 41×41 pixels, equaling to an area of about 1.51 km2. The average change-point analysis approach shows that the optimum window size for regional RDLS analysis is unique. (2) The average RDLS of the study area is approximately 5.06, along with over 60% of the plateau ranging between 4.5 and 5.7. On the whole, the topographic relief increases from the northeast to the southwest and west parts. Gentle to small-relief landforms are mostly seen in the Qaidam Basin, the Southern Tibet Valley, and the Hehuang Valley (Yellow and Huangshui river valleys). Also, the differences in the local surface relief in varied latitudinal sections (along the mountain range) are small, while those at longitudinal level are big, showing hierarchical and regular fluctuations (crossing the mountain trending). (3) Correlation analyses showed that different values of the RDLS in the plateau correspond to geomorphic units with different elevations and relative height differences. The profile characteristics of the mountains in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau based on different terrain reliefs indicate that the height above sea level of low mountains steadily increases first, then experiences sudden rise and severe fluctuation in surface relief, and finally forms the orderly ups and downs of the extreme mountains, e.g., the Himalayas.

Key words: window analysis, relief degree of land surface (RDLS), geographical meaning, profile characteristics, Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, suitability assessment of human settlements