Analysis of long-term satellite data reveals the dynamic changes of water bodies over large areas of China

New research published today in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences reports that the abundance of water bodies >1 km2 in China are up to 1.5 times greater than previous estimates. The analysis also presents the first-ever comprehensive estimate of small (0.001-1 km2) water bodies in China that accounts for approximately 99% of total water body abundance, and 15% of water body area. Climate change and anthropogenic activities were identified as the predominant drivers of the reported changes.

Inland water bodies (i.e., lakes, ponds, reservoirs) provide an important array of ecosystem services. However, the dynamic nature of water bodies requires the development of methodologies to determine accurately their size and distribution to inform our understanding of ecosystem function, and to prioritize the use and conservation of water resources.  

The study’s first author, Feng Shuailong, a master’s student studying under the umbrella of the Bangor University and Central South University of Forestry and Technology (CSUFT) Joint Research Centre explained that the availability of free long-term, high-resolution, Landsat data had enabled the detailed analysis and discoveries. 

Prof. Shuguang Liu, the study’s corresponding author at CSUFT, said “our international collaborative research efforts have enabled us to show the impact anthropomorphic activities have on the change in area and distribution of water bodies, particularly in high elevation regions where water bodies have expanded due to glacier melting.”

Dr. Andy Smith, a co-author from Bangor University said, “We’re delighted that the first publication arising from the Bangor-CSUFT Joint Research Centre collaboration has resulted in a step-change in our understanding of the impacts of climate change on water body distribution and area in China, and the mechanisms pertaining to the these changes”. 

Prof. Morag McDonald, study co-author and Head of the School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University said, “This important finding demonstrates the importance and benefits of international collaboration in developing new ways of working together to resolve globally important environmental issues.”










Change in water body abundance throughout China between 1984-1999 and 2000-2015.

Feng et al. 2019. Inland Water Bodies in China: New Features Discovered in the Long-term Satellite Data. PNAS.

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Publication date: 3 December 2019