Articles | Volume 19, issue 8
Research article
03 Aug 2015
Research article |  | 03 Aug 2015

Relating seasonal dynamics of enhanced vegetation index to the recycling of water in two endorheic river basins in north-west China

M. A. Matin and C. P.-A. Bourque

Abstract. This study associates the dynamics of enhanced vegetation index in lowland desert oases to the recycling of water in two endorheic (hydrologically closed) river basins in Gansu Province, north-west China, along a gradient of elevation zones and land cover types. Each river basin was subdivided into four elevation zones representative of (i) oasis plains and foothills, and (ii) low-, (iii) mid-, and (iv) high-mountain elevations. Comparison of monthly vegetation phenology with precipitation and snowmelt dynamics within the same basins over a 10-year period (2000–2009) suggested that the onset of the precipitation season (cumulative % precipitation > 7–8 %) in the mountains, typically in late April to early May, was triggered by the greening of vegetation and increased production of water vapour at the base of the mountains. Seasonal evolution of in-mountain precipitation correlated fairly well with the temporal variation in oasis-vegetation coverage and phenology characterised by monthly enhanced vegetation index, yielding coefficients of determination of 0.65 and 0.85 for the two basins. Convergent cross-mapping of related time series indicated bi-directional causality (feedback) between the two variables. Comparisons between same-zone monthly precipitation amounts and enhanced vegetation index provided weaker correlations. Start of the growing season in the oases was shown to coincide with favourable spring warming and discharge of meltwater from low- to mid-elevations of the Qilian Mountains (zones 1 and 2) in mid-to-late March. In terms of plant requirement for water, mid-seasonal development of oasis vegetation was seen to be controlled to a greater extent by the production of rain in the mountains. Comparison of water volumes associated with in-basin production of rainfall and snowmelt with that associated with evaporation seemed to suggest that about 90 % of the available liquid water (i.e. mostly in the form of direct rainfall and snowmelt in the mountains) was recycled locally.

Short summary
This paper describes a methodology in analysing the interdependencies between components of the hydrological cycle and vegetation characteristics at different elevation zones of two endorheic river basins in an arid-mountainous region of NW China. The analysis shows that oasis vegetation has an important function in sustaining the water cycle in the river basins and oasis vegetation is dependent on surface and shallow subsurface water flow from mountain sources.