Articles | Volume 17, issue 3
Research article
05 Mar 2013
Research article |  | 05 Mar 2013

Impact of climate change and anthropogenic activities on stream flow and sediment discharge in the Wei River basin, China

P. Gao, V. Geissen, C. J. Ritsema, X.-M. Mu, and F. Wang

Abstract. Reduced stream flow and increased sediment discharge are a major concern in the Yellow River basin of China, which supplies water for agriculture, industry and the growing populations located along the river. Similar concerns exist in the Wei River basin, which is the largest tributary of the Yellow River basin and comprises the highly eroded Loess Plateau. Better understanding of the drivers of stream flow and sediment discharge dynamics in the Wei River basin is needed for development of effective management strategies for the region and entire Yellow River basin. In this regard we analysed long-term trends for water and sediment discharge during the flood season in the Wei River basin, China. Stream flow and sediment discharge data for 1932 to 2008 from existing hydrological stations located in two subcatchments and at two points in the Wei River were analysed. Precipitation and air temperature data were analysed from corresponding meteorological stations. We identified change-points or transition years for the trends by the Pettitt method and, using double mass curves, we diagnosed whether they were caused by precipitation changes, human intervention, or both. We found significant decreasing trends for stream flow and sediment discharge during the flood season in both subcatchments and in the Wei River itself. Change-point analyses further revealed that transition years existed and that rapid decline in stream flow began in 1968 (P < 0.01), and that sediment discharge began in 1981 (P < 0.01) in the main river. In the two subcatchments, the transition years were 1985 (P < 0.01) and 1994 (P < 0.05) for water discharge, and 1978 and 1979 for sediment discharge (P < 0.05), respectively. The impact of precipitation or human activity on the reduction amount after the transition years was estimated by double mass curves of precipitation vs. stream flow (sediment). For reductions in stream flow and sediment discharge, the contribution rate of human activity was found to be 82.80 and 95.56%, respectively, and was significantly stronger than the contribution rate of precipitation. This evidence clearly suggests that, in the absence of significant decreases in precipitation, strategies for managing the region need to focus on human activities to control erosion without restricting stream flow.