Impact of revegetation of the Loess Plateau of China on the regional growing season water balance

Ge, Jun; Pitman, Andrew J.; Guo, Weidong; Zan, Beilei; Fu, Congbin

To resolve a series of ecological and environmental problems over the Loess Plateau, the “Grain for Green Program” (GFGP) was initiated at the end of 1990s. Following the conversion of croplands and bare land on hillslopes to forests, the Loess Plateau has displayed a significant greening trend, which has resulted in soil erosion being reduced. However, the GFGP has also affected the hydrology of the Loess Plateau, which has raised questions regarding whether the GFGP should be continued in the future. We investigated the impact of revegetation on the hydrology of the Loess Plateau using relatively high-resolution simulations and multiple realizations with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model. Results suggest that revegetation since the launch of the GFGP has reduced runoff and soil moisture due to enhanced evapotranspiration. Further revegetation associated with the GFGP policy is likely to further increase evapotranspiration, and thereby reduce runoff and soil moisture. The increase in evapotranspiration is associated with biophysical changes, including deeper roots that deplete deep soil moisture stores. However, despite the increase in evapotranspiration, our results show no impact on rainfall. Our study cautions against further revegetation over the Loess Plateau given the reduction in water available for agriculture and human settlements and the lack of any significant compensation from rainfall.

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Ge, Jun / Pitman, Andrew J. / Guo, Weidong / et al: Impact of revegetation of the Loess Plateau of China on the regional growing season water balance. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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