Poyang and Dongting Lakes, Yangtze River: Tributary lakes blocked by main-stem aggradation

Chenge An, Hongwei Fang, Li Zhang, Xinyue Su, Xudong Fu, He Qing Huang, Gary Parker, Marwan A. Hassan, Nooreen A. Meghani, Alison M. Anders, Guangqian Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During its 6,300-km course from the Tibetan Plateau to the ocean, the Yangtze River is joined by two large lakes: Dongting Lake and Poyang Lake. We explain why these lakes exist. Deglaciation forced the ocean adjacent to the Yangtze mouth to rise ~120 m. This forced a wave of rising water surface elevation and concomitant bed aggradation upstream. While aggradation attenuated upstream, the low bed slope of the Middle-Lower Yangtze River (~2 × 10-5 near Wuhan) made it susceptible to sea level rise. The main stem, sourced at 5,054 m above sea level, had a substantial sediment load to "fight"against water surface level rise by means of bed aggradation. The tributaries of the Middle-Lower Yangtze have reliefs of approximately hundreds of meters, and did not have enough sediment supply to fill the tributary accommodation space created by main-stem aggradation. We show that the resulting tributary blockage likely gave rise to the lakes. We justify this using field data and numerical modeling, and derive a dimensionless number capturing the critical rate of water surface rise for blockage versus nonblockage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2101384119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number30
StatePublished - Jul 26 2022


  • Alluvial river
  • Yangtze
  • blockage
  • lake
  • sea level rise

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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