Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2020, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (6): 969-987.doi: 10.1007/s11442-020-1765-0

• Regular Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Vertical differentiation of land cover in the central Himalayas

ZHANG Yili1,2,3, WU Xue1,3, ZHENG Du1   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Environment Change and Resources Use in Beibu Gulf, the Ministry of Education, Nanning Normal University, Nanning 530001, Guangxi, China
    2. CAS Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
    3. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2020-02-22 Accepted:2020-04-06 Online:2020-06-25 Published:2020-08-25
  • About author:Zhang Yili and Wu Xue are co-first authors. E-mail:;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(No.41761144081);The Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences(No.XDA20040201);The Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research(No.2019QZKK0603)


Characterized by obvious altitudinal variation, habitat complexity, and diversity in land cover, the Mt. Qomolangma region within the central Himalayas is one of the most sensitive areas to climate change in the world. At the same time, because the Mt. Qomolangma region possesses the most complete natural vertical spectrum in the world, it is also an ideal place to study the vertical structure of alpine land cover. In this study, land cover data for 2010 along with digital elevation model data were used to define three methods for dividing the northern and southern slopes in the Mt. Qomolangma region, i.e., the ridgeline method, the sample transect method, and the sector method. The altitudinal distributions of different land cover types were then investigated for both the northern and southern slopes of the Mt. Qomolangma region by using the above three division methods along with ArcGIS and MATLAB tools. The results indicate that the land cover in the study region was characterized by obviously vertical zonation with the south-six and north-four pattern of vertical spectrum that reflected both the natural vertical structure of vegetation and the effects of human activities. From low to high elevation, the main land cover types were forests, grasslands, sparse vegetation, bare land, and glacier/snow cover. The compositions and distributions of land cover types differed significantly between the northern and southern slopes; the southern slope exhibited more complex land cover distributions with wider elevation ranges than the northern slope. The area proportion of each land cover type also varied with elevation. Accordingly, the vertical distribution patterns of different land cover types on the southern and northern slopes could be divided into four categories, with glaciers/snow cover, sparse vegetation, and grasslands conforming to unimodal distributions. The distribution of bare land followed a unimodal pattern on the southern slope but a bimodal pattern on the northern slope. Finally, the use of different slope division methods produced similar vertical belt structures on the southern slope but different ones on the northern slope. Among the three division methods, the sector method was better to reflect the natural distribution pattern of land cover.

Key words: land cover, altitudinal zonation, central Himalayas, Mt. Qomolangma, Mt. Makalu, Mt. Cho Oyu