Flow regime changes in the Lancang River, revealed by integrated modeling with multiple Earth observation datasets

Sci Total Environ. 2023 Mar 1;862:160656. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.160656. Epub 2022 Dec 7.


The flow regime change of rivers, especially transboundary rivers, affected by reservoir regulations is evident worldwide and has received much attention. Investigating dam-induced flow regime alterations is essential for understanding potential adverse downstream effects and facilitating dialogue around coordinated water use in transboundary basins, such as the Lancang River Basin (LRB). This study explored the value of combining several types of satellite Earth observation (EO) datasets that monitor different water balance components to constrain the parameter space of lumped conceptual hydrological models. Thus, we aimed to reconstruct the natural flow regimes upstream and downstream of the cascade reservoirs. Specifically, reservoir water storage changes were first estimated using satellite imagery and altimetry datasets. Then, storage changes were combined with hydrological model simulations of reservoir inflow to estimate the regulated flow regime downstream. Our results showed that integrated hydrological modeling combined with EO datasets exhibited better overall performance. Continuous warming and drying of the LRB resulted in a decrease in discharge of approximately 47 %. By comparing the simulated natural and regulated flow regimes, we revealed the pivotal role of the Xiaowan and Nuozhadu reservoirs in regulating natural flows. The wet season shortens (approximately 45 days), the flood peak flattens, and the low flow in the dry season has primarily increases. The two reservoirs attenuated 50 % of the flood peaks in the wet seasons and mitigated droughts by releasing up to 100 % of the natural flows in the dry seasons at the China-Laos border. Overall, these results enhance the understanding of upper reservoir operation, and the approaches can be applied to studies of dammed basins under climate change scenarios when knowledge of the upstream area is limited.

Keywords: Cascade reservoir; Climate change; Flow regime; Hydrological model; Lancang river; Sentinel-3 altimetry.

MeSH terms

  • China
  • Environmental Monitoring* / methods
  • Hydrology
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Rivers