Recent anthropogenic curtailing of Yellow River runoff and sediment load is unprecedented over the past 500 y

Yu Liu, Huiming Song, Zhisheng An, Changfeng Sun, Valerie Trouet, Qiufang Cai, Ruoshi Liu, Steven W. Leavitt, Yi Song, Qiang Li, Congxi Fang, Weijian Zhou, Yinke Yang, Zhao Jin, Yunqiang Wang, Junyan Sun, Xingmin Mu, Ying Lei, Lu Wang, Xuxiang LiMeng Ren, Linlin Cui, Xueli Zeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


The Yellow River (YR) is the fifth-longest and the most sedimentladen river in the world. Frequent historical YR flooding events, however, have resulted in tremendous loss of life and property, whereas in recent decades YR runoff and sediment load have fallen sharply. To put these recent changes in a longer-term context, we reconstructed natural runoff for the middle reach of the YR back to 1492 CE using a network of 31 moisture-sensitive treering width chronologies. Prior to anthropogenic interference that started in the 1960s, the lowest natural runoff over the past 500 y occurred during 1926 to 1932 CE, a drought period that can serve as a benchmark for future planning of YR water allocation. Since the late 1980s, the low observed YR runoff has exceeded the natural range of runoff variability, a consequence of the combination of decreasing precipitation and increasing water consumption by direct and indirect human activities, particularly agricultural irrigation. This reduced runoff has resulted in an estimated 58% reduction of the sediment load in the upper reach of the YR and 29% reduction in the middle reach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18251-18257
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number31
StatePublished - Aug 4 2020


  • Runoff reconstruction
  • Sediment load
  • Tree rings
  • Water consumption
  • Yellow river

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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