Articles | Volume 8, issue 6
31 Dec 2004
31 Dec 2004

Research Note:
Effects of human activities on the Yangtze River suspended sediment flux into the estuary in the last century

S. L. Yang, Z. Shi, H. Y. Zhao, P. Li, S. B. Dai, and A. Gao

Abstract. The surface erosion area in the Yangtze River basin increased from 364×103 km2 in the 1950s to 707×103 km2 in 2001 due to a great increase in population. Based on the regression relationship between surface erosion area and population, the surface erosion area was predicted to be about 280×103 km2 at the beginning of the 20th century. The sediment yield, which increased by about 30% during the first six decades of the 20th century, was closely related to the surface erosion area in this river basin. The Yangtze annual suspended sediment flux into the estuary was about 395×106 t a-1 at the beginning of the century, and this gradually increased to an average of 509×106 t a-1 in the 1960s. The increase in the suspended sediment flux into the estuary was accelerated in the 1950s and the 1960s due to the rapid increase in population and land use immediately after the Second World War and the Liberation War. After the riverine suspended sediment flux reached its maximum in the 1960s, it decreased to <206×106 t a-1 in 2003. Construction of dams was found to be the principal cause for this decreasing trend because, during the same period, (a) the riverine water discharge did not show a decreasing trend, (b) water diversion was not influential and (c) sedimentation in lakes and canals of the middle and lower reaches did not increase. The total storage capacity of reservoirs has increased dramatically over the past half century. The amount of sediment trapped in reservoirs has increased to more than half a billion t a-1. As a result, the suspended sediment flux into the estuary dramatically decreased, even though the sediment yield from many areas of the basin increased in recent decades. Human activities gradually increased the suspended sediment flux into the estuary before the 1960s and then rapidly decreased it. The last century was a period when the Yangtze suspended sediment flux into the estuary was dramatically affected by human activities.

Keywords: riverine sediment flux, human activities, surface erosion, dam, Yangtze (Changjiang) River