Drying and wetting trends and vegetation covariations in the drylands of China

Chuanzhuang Liang, Tiexi Chen*, Han Dolman, Tingting Shi, Xueqiong Wei, Jialu Xu, Daniel Fiifi Tawia Hagan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The semi-arid and arid drylands of China, which are located in the inland region of Eurasia, have experienced rapid climate change. Some regions in particular, have shown upward trends in the observational records of precipitation. However, there is more to drying and wetting than just changes in precipitation which still have large uncertainties. Coherent results, however, can be obtained, at the regional scale, with the use of multiple indices as shown in the recent literature. We divided the drylands of China into three sub-regions, i.e., a semi-arid (SA), an eastern-arid (EA) and a western-arid (WA) region. Precipitation from the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) and Climatic Research Unit (CRU), statistical and physical drought indices, including the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI), the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), self-calibrating PDSI (sc_PDSI), Root zone soil moisture (Root_sm) and Surface soil moisture (Surf_sm) from Global Land Evaporation Amsterdam Model (GLEAM), and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) were used to identify temporal and spatial patterns in drying and wetting. Data were selected from 1982-2012, in line with the availability of the remotely sensed vegetation data. Results show that the drylands of China exhibits a pattern of wetting in the west and drying in the east. The semi-arid region in the east is becoming drier and the drought area is increasing, with the values of CMA_P, CRU_P, PDSI, sc_PDSI, SPEI-01,SPEI-06, SPEI-12, Root_sm, Surf_sm at -1.064 mm yr-1, -0.834 mm yr-1, -0.050 yr-1 (p < 0.1), -0.174 yr-1 (p < 0.1), -0.014 yr-1, -0.06, -0.021 (p < 0.1), -0.257±10-3 m3 m-3 yr-1, -0.024±10-3 m3 m-3 yr-1, respectively. The arid region generally exhibits a wetting trend, while the area in drought declines only in the western arid region, but not in the eastern arid part. In the semi-arid region, growing season (May to September) NDVI is significantly correlated (p < 0.1) with eight out of nine indicators. We show in this study that the semi-arid region needs more study to protect the vegetation ecosystem and the water resources.

Original languageEnglish
Article number933
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number4
Early online date25 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • Drought index
  • Drying and wetting trend
  • Dryland
  • Vegetation


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