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Downstream Yangtze River levels impacted by the Three Gorges Dam

TitleDownstream Yangtze River levels impacted by the Three Gorges Dam
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsWang J, Sheng Y, Gleason CJ, Wada Y
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Date Published10/2013
Keywordschannel erosion, human impact, Three Gorges Dam, Water level, water regulation, Yangtze River

Changes in the Yangtze River level induced by large-scale human water regulation have profound implications on the inundation dynamics of surrounding lakes/wetlands and the integrity of related ecosystems. Using in situ measurements and hydrological simulation, this study reveals an altered Yangtze level regime downstream from the Three Gorges Dam (TGD) to the Yangtze estuary in the East China Sea as a combined result of (i) TGD's flow regulation and (ii) Yangtze channel erosion due to reduced sediment load. During the average annual cycle of TGD's regular flow control in 2009–2012, downstream Yangtze level variations were estimated to have been reduced by 3.9–13.5% at 15 studied gauging stations, manifested as evident level decrease in fall and increase in winter and spring. The impacts on Yangtze levels generally diminished in a longitudinal direction from the TGD to the estuary, with a total time lag of ~9–12 days. Chronic Yangtze channel erosion since the TGD closure has lowered water levels in relation to flows at most downstream stations, which in turn counteracts the anticipated level increase by nearly or over 50% in winter and spring while reinforcing the anticipated level decrease by over 20% in fall. Continuous downstream channel erosion in the near future may further counteract the benefit of increased Yangtze levels during TGD's water supplement in winter and accelerate the receding of inundation areas/levels of downstream lakes in fall.