Four Decades of Wetland Changes of the Largest Freshwater Lake in China: Possible Linkage to the Three Gorges Dam?

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Poyang Lake, Wetland, Three Gorges Dam, Wetland vegetation, Water level, Landsat, Remote sensing

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Wetlands provide important ecosystem functions for water alteration and conservation of bio-diversity, yet they are vulnerable to both human activities and climate changes. Using four decades of Landsat and HJ-1A/1B satellites observations and recently developed classification algorithms, long-term wetland changes in Poyang Lake, the largest freshwater lake of China, have been investigated in this study. In dry seasons, while the transitions from mudflat to vegetation and vice versa were comparable before 2001, vegetation area increased by 620.8 km2 (16.6% of the lake area) between 2001 and 2013. In wet seasons, although no obvious land cover changes were observed between 1977 and 2003, ~ 30% of the Nanjishan Wetland National Nature Reserve (NWNNR) in the south lake changed from water to emerged plant during 2003 and 2014. The changing rate of the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) in dry seasons showed that the vegetation in the lake center regions flourished, while the growth of vegetation in the off-water areas was stressed. Rapid NDVI increase was also found in the NWNNR in the wet seasons. The relationships between the water levels and vegetation coverage also showed two regimes in both dry and wet seasons for the pre-Three Gorges Dam (TGD) period (before 2003) and post-TGD period (after 2003). Analyses of long-term hydrological and meteorological data clearly indicated that while local precipitation remained stable, the water level of Poyang Lake decreased significantly after the impoundment of the TGD, which is likely the main reason for the wetland expansion in recent years.

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Remote Sensing of Environment, v. 176, p. 43-55