Climate change, vegetation restoration and engineering as a 1:2:1 explanation for reduction of suspended sediment in southwest China uri icon


  • Suspended sediment transport in rivers is controlled by terrain, climate and human activities. These variables affect hillslope and riverbank erosion at the source, transport velocities and sedimentation opportunities in the river channel, and entrapment in reservoirs. The relative importance of those factors varies with context but correct attribution is important for policy debates. We analyzed data from the Kejie watershed in the upper Salween, where a combination of land cover change (reforestation, soil and water conservation measures) and river channel engineering (sand mining and check dam construction) interact with a changing climate. Long-term records (1971-2010) of river flow and suspended sediment loads were combined with five land use maps from 1974, 1991, 2001, 2006 and 2009. Average annual sediment yield decreased from 13.7 t ha?1 yr?1 to 8.3 t ha?1 yr?1 between the 1971-1985 and 1986-2010. A distributed hydrological model (Soil and Water Assessment Tools, SWAT) was set up to simulate the sediment sourcing and transport process. By recombining land use and climate data for the two periods in model scenarios, the contribution of these two factors could be assessed with engineering effects derived from residual measured minus modeled transport. Overall 46% of the decrease was due to from land use and land cover change, 25% to climate change to a milder rainfall regime, 25% to engineering measures, and 4% to simulation bias. Mean annual suspended sediment yield decreased exponentially with the increase of forest cover. We discuss the implications for future soil and water conservation initiatives in China

publication date

  • 2013