Regional Sustainability ›› 2020, Vol. 1 ›› Issue (1): 20-30.doi: 10.1016/j.regsus.2020.06.003

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Potential risks and challenges of climate change in the arid region of northwestern China

Yaning Chena,b,*(), Xueqi Zhanga,b, Gonghuan Fanga,b,**(), Zhi Lia,b, Fei Wanga,b, Jingxiu Qina,b, Fan Suna,b   

  1. aState Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Urumqi 830011, China
    bUniversity of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2020-04-12 Revised:2020-06-01 Accepted:2020-06-27 Online:2020-01-20 Published:2020-10-20
  • Contact: Yaning Chen,Gonghuan Fang


In the arid region of northwestern China (ARNC), water resources are the most critical factor restricting socioeconomic development and influencing the stability of the area’s ecological systems. The region’s complex water system and unique hydrological cycle show distinctive characteristics. Moreover, the intensified hydrological cycle and extreme climatic and hydrological events resulting from global warming have led to increased uncertainty around water resources as well as heightened conflict between water supply and water demand. All of these factors are exerting growing pressures on the socioeconomic development and vulnerable ecological environment in the region. This research evaluates the impacts of climate change on water resources, hydrological processes, agricultural system, and desert ecosystems in the ARNC, and addresses some associated risks and challenges specific to this area. The temperature is rising at a rate of 0.31°C per decade during 1961-2017 and hydrological processes are being significantly influenced by changes in glaciers, snow cover, and precipitation form, especially in the rivers recharged primarily by melt water. Ecosystems are also largely influenced by climate change, with the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) of natural vegetation exhibited an increasing trend prior to 1998, and then reversed in Xinjiang while the Hexi Corridor of Gansu showed the opposite trends. Furthermore, the desert-oasis transition zone showed a reduction in area due to the warming trend and the recent rapid expansion of irrigated area. Both the warming and intensified drought are threatening agriculture security. The present study could shed light on sustainable development in this region under climate change and provides scientific basis to the construction of the “Silk Road Economic Belt”.

Key words: Climate change, Hydrological processes, Desert ecosystem, Sustainable development, Water resources, Arid region of northwestern China, Silk Road Economic Belt