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Attribution analysis of runoff decline in a semiarid region of the Loess Plateau, China

Li, Binquan, Liang, Zhongmin, Zhang, Jianyun, Wang, Guoqing, Zhao, Weimin, Zhang, Hongyue, Wang, Jun, Hu, Yiming
Theoretical and applied climatology 2018 v.131 no.1-2 pp. 845-855
air temperature, atmospheric precipitation, evapotranspiration, humans, loess, runoff, semiarid zones, soil, water conservation, water shortages, watersheds, China, Yellow River
Climate variability and human activities are two main contributing attributions for runoff changes in the Yellow River, China. In the loess hilly-gully regions of the middle Yellow River, water shortage has been a serious problem, and this results in large-scale constructions of soil and water conservation (SWC) measures in the past decades in order to retain water for agricultural irrigation and industrial production. This disturbed the natural runoff characteristics. In this paper, we focused on a typical loess hilly-gully region (Wudinghe and Luhe River basins) and investigated the effects of SWC measures and climate variability on runoff during the period of 1961–2013, while the SWC measures were the main representative of human activities in this region. The nonparametric Mann-Kendall test was used to analyze the changes of annual precipitation, air temperature, potential evapotranspiration (PET), and runoff. The analysis revealed the decrease in precipitation, significant rise in temperature, and remarkable runoff reduction with a rate of more than 0.4 mm per year. It was found that runoff capacity in this region also decreased. Using the change point detection methods, the abrupt change point of annual runoff series was found at 1970, and thus, the study period was divided into the baseline period (1961–1970) and changed period (1971–2013). A conceptual framework based on four statistical runoff methods was used for attribution analysis of runoff decline in the Wudinghe and Luhe River basins (−37.3 and −56.4%, respectively). Results showed that runoff reduction can be explained by 85.2–90.3% (83.3–85.7%) with the SWC measures in the Wudinghe (Luhe) River basin while the remaining proportions were caused by climate variability. The findings suggested that the large-scale SWC measures demonstrated a dominant influence on runoff decline, and the change of precipitation extreme was also a promoting factor of the upward trending of SWC measures’ contribution to runoff decline. This study enhances our understanding of runoff changes caused by SWC measures and climate variability in the typical semiarid region of Loess Plateau, China.