Monitoring decadal lake dynamics across the Yangtze Basin downstream of Three Gorges Dam

Jida Wang, Yongwei Sheng, Tak Shun D. Tong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Yangtze River Basin downstream of China's Three Gorges Dam (TGD) (thereafter referred to as "downstream" basin) hosts the largest cluster of freshwater lakes in East Asia. These lakes are crucial water stocks to local biophysical environments and socioeconomic development. Existing studies document that individual lakes in this region have recently experienced dramatic changes under the context of enduring meteorological drought, continuous population growth, and extensive water regulation since TGD's initial impoundment (i.e., June, 2003). However, spatial and temporal patterns of lake dynamics across the complete downstream Yangtze basin remain poorly characterized. Using daily MODIS imagery and an advanced thematic mapping scheme, this study presents a comprehensive monitoring of area dynamics in the downstream lake system at a 10-day temporal resolution during 2000-2011. The studied lakes constitute ~76% (~11,400km2) of the total downstream lake area, including the entire +70 major lakes larger than 20km2. The results reveal a decadal net decline in lake inundation area across the downstream Yangtze Basin, with a cumulative decrease of 849km2 or 7.4% from 2000 to 2011. Despite an excessive precipitation anomaly in the year 2010, the decreasing trend was tested significant in all seasons. The most substantial decrease in the post-TGD period appears in fall (1.1%yr-1), which intriguingly coincides with the TGD water storage season. Regional lake dynamics exhibit contrasting spatial patterns, manifested as evident decrease and increase of aggregated lake areas respectively within and beyond the Yangtze Plain. This contrast suggests a marked vulnerability of lakes in the Yangtze Plain, to not only local meteorological variability but also intensified human water regulations from both the upstream Yangtze main stem (e.g., the TGD) and tributaries (e.g., lakes/reservoirs beyond the Yangtze Plain). The produced lake mapping result and derived lake area dynamics across the downstream Yangtze Basin provides a crucial monitoring basis for continuous investigations of changing mechanisms in the Yangtze lake system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-269
Number of pages19
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate variation
  • Human activities
  • Lakes
  • Three Gorges Dam
  • Yangtze Basin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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