Emergent stationarity in Yellow River sediment transport and the underlying shift of dominance: from streamflow to vegetation
Soil erosion and sediment transport play important roles in terrestrial landscape evolution and biogeochemical cycles of nutrients and contaminants. Although discharge is considered to be a controlling factor in sediment transport, its correlation with sediment concentration varies across the Yellow River basin (YRB) and is not fully understood. This paper provides analysis from gauges across the YRB covering a range of climates, topographic characteristics, and degrees of human intervention. Our results show that discharge control on sediment transport is dampened at gauges with large mean annual discharge, where sediment concentration becomes more and more stable. This emergent stationarity can be attributed to vegetation resistance. Our analysis shows that sediment concentration follows a bell shape with vegetation index (normalized difference vegetation index, NDVI) at an annual scale despite heterogeneity in climate and landscape. We obtain the counterintuitive result that, as mean annual discharge increases, the dominant control on sediment transport shifts from streamflow erosion to vegetation retardation in the YRB.