The Tibetan Plateau (TP), known as the world’s “Third Pole,” plays a vital role in regulating the regional and global climate and provides freshwater for about 1.5 billion people. Observations show an accelerated ground surface warming trend over the southeastern TP during the global warming slowdown period of 1998–2013, especially in the summer and winter seasons. The processes responsible for such acceleration are under debate as contributions from different radiative processes are still unknown. Here we estimate for the first time the contributions of each radiative component to the ground surface warming trend before and after 1998 by analyzing multisource datasets under an energy balance framework. Results show that declining cloud cover caused by the weakening of both the South Asian summer monsoon and local-scale atmospheric upward motion mainly led to the accelerated ground surface warming during the summers of 1998–2013, whereas the decreased surface albedo caused by the snow melting was the major warming factor in winter. Moreover, increased clear-sky longwave radiation induced by the warming middle and upper troposphere was the second largest factor, contributing to about 21%–48% of the ground surface warming trend in both the summer and winter seasons. Our results unravel the key processes driving the ground surface warming over the southeastern TP and have implications for the development of climate and Earth system models in simulating ground surface temperature change and other related complex cryosphere–hydrosphere–atmosphere interactions over high-altitude land areas.

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