Articles | Volume 20, issue 1
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 93–107, 2016
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 93–107, 2016

Research article 15 Jan 2016

Research article | 15 Jan 2016

Hydroclimatological influences on recently increased droughts in China's largest freshwater lake

Y. Liu and G. Wu Y. Liu and G. Wu
  • Nanjing Institute of Geography & Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 73 East Beijing Road, Nanjing 210008, China

Abstract. Lake droughts are the consequence of climatic, hydrologic and anthropogenic influences. Quantification of droughts and estimation of the contributions from the individual factors are essential for understanding drought features and their causation structure. This is also important for policymakers to make effective adaption decisions, especially under changing climate. This study examines Poyang Lake, China's largest freshwater lake, which has been undergoing drastic hydrological alternation in the past decade. Standardized lake stage is used to identify and quantify the lake droughts, and hydroclimatic contributions are determined with a water budget analysis, in which absolute deficiency is defined in reference to normal hydrologic conditions. Our analyses demonstrate that in the past decade the lake droughts worsened in terms of duration, frequency, intensity and severity. Hydroclimatic contributions to each individual drought varied between droughts, and the overall contribution to the lake droughts in the past decade came from decreased inflow, increased outflow, and reduced precipitation and increased evapotranspiration in the lake region. The decreased inflow resulted mainly from reduced precipitation and less from increased evapotranspiration over the Poyang Lake basin. The increased outflow was attributable to the weakened blocking effects of the Yangtze River, which the Three Gorges Dam (TGD) established upstream. The TGD impoundments were not responsible for the increased number of drought events, but they may have intensified the droughts and changed the frequency of classified droughts. However, the TGD contribution is limited in comparison with hydroclimatic influences. Hence, the recently increased droughts were due to hydroclimatic effects, with a less important contribution from anthropogenic influences.

Short summary
Lake droughts result in significant hydrological, ecological and economic consequences. This study proposes approaches for quantifying the lake drought features and estimating the contributions from individual factors, taking China’s largest freshwater lake as a case examination. Our results showed that the recently increased lake droughts were due to hydroclimatic effects, with less important contributions from the water impoundments of the world’s largest dam affecting the lake outflows.