Is the Pearl River basin, China, drying or wetting? Seasonal variations, causes and implications

Qiang Zhang, Jianfeng Li*, Xihui Gu*, Peijun Shi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
14 Downloads (Pure)


Soil moisture plays crucial roles in the hydrological cycle and is also a critical link between land surface and atmosphere. The Pearl River basin (PRb) is climatically subtropical and tropical and is highly sensitive to climate changes. In this study, seasonal soil moisture changes across the PRb were analyzed using the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model forced by the gridded 0.5° × 0.5° climatic observations. Seasonal changes of soil moisture in both space and time were investigated using the Mann-Kendall trend test method. Potential influencing factors behind seasonal soil moisture changes such as precipitation and temperature were identified using the Maximum Covariance Analysis (MCA) technique. The results indicated that: (1) VIC model performs well in describing changing properties of soil moisture across the PRb; (2) Distinctly different seasonal features of soil moisture can be observed. Soil moisture in spring decreased from east to west parts of the PRb. In summer however, soil moisture was higher in east and west parts but was lower in central parts of the PRb; (3) A significant drying trend was identified over the PRb in autumn, while no significant drying trends can be detected in other seasons; (4) The increase/decrease in precipitation can generally explain the wetting/drying tendency of soil moisture. However, warming temperature contributed significantly to the drying trends and these drying trends were particularly evident during autumn and winter; (5) Significant decreasing precipitation and increasing temperature combined to trigger substantially decreasing soil moisture in autumn. In winter, warming temperature is the major reason behind decreased soil moisture although precipitation is in slightly decreasing tendency. Season variations of soil moisture and related implications for hydro-meteorological processes in the subtropical and tropical river basins over the globe should arouse considerable human concerns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-61
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Oceanography

User-Defined Keywords

  • China
  • Climate change
  • Seasonal variation
  • Soil moisture
  • Variable Infiltration Capacity model


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