Water quality in the southern Tibetan Plateau: Chemical evaluation of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra)

X. Huang, M. Sillanpää, E. T. Gjessing, S. Peräniemi, R. D. Vogt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Citations (Scopus)


Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) is the largest river system draining the northern slopes of the Himalayan ranges on the southern Tibetan Plateau. It remains one of only two large non-regulated rivers in China. In this paper the chemical composition of Yarlung Tsangpo and its major tributaries (Raga Tsangpo, Nyangchu and Lhasa River) are studied. Water samples (n = 55) were collected and measured for major ions, trace elements and nutrients in order to: (1) define the present chemical quality of this water course; (2) address possible mechanisms governing the water chemical compositions, and (3) identify potential sources for contaminants. Multivariable analysis shows that geology and climate are the major explanatory variables for the spatial variation in water chemistry in this river system. In general, water chemistry is mainly controlled by carbonate weathering, with Ca2+ and HCO 3- being the dominant ions. In addition, runoff from brackish/saline lakes and geothermal waters, enriched in Na+, Cl-, SO 42-, Mg2+ and Li, are major contributors of elevated concentrations of these solutes in the headwater regions resulting in a relatively high loading of total dissolved solids (TDS, 146-397 mg L-1). Levels of most heavy metals and total dissolved nutrients were generally found to be low. However, elevated As concentration (avg. 95 μg L-1) in the headwaters and additions from untreated wastewater were evident at some locations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-121
Number of pages9
JournalRiver Research and Applications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Major ion chemistry
  • River water quality
  • Southern Tibetan Plateau
  • Trace element
  • Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • General Environmental Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Water quality in the southern Tibetan Plateau: Chemical evaluation of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this