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A recent study on lakes and reservoirs in China’s Xinjiang by Chinese scientists shows that water level and volume are increasing in its mountainous regions but decreasing in oasis regions and desert regions.

The study, carried out by CHEN Yaning and his team at the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, was published on PLoS One, entitled “Analysis of water level variation of lakes and reservoirs in Xinjiang, China using ICES at laser altimetry data (2003-2009)”.

Water holds the key for local inhabitants’ livelihood and socio-economic development, especially for those who live in arid regions such as the Xinjiang Autonomous Regions. Lakes are the primary water resources in Xinjiang.

By using Landsat images and ICESat laser altimetry data, CHEN and his colleague studied lakes and reservoirs with area larger than 1 km2. Analysis shows that water level in most lakes and reservoirs in the oasis and desert regions are declining, while lakes in the mountain areas see a rising trend, especially for those recharged by snow and glacial melting.

“This is because they are sensitive to climate warming, which results in increased melting of snow and glaciers,” said CHEN. Mountain snowmelt is the key source of water. China has seen about 5.5% of its total glacier lost over the past 45 years, according to statistics from the First Glacier Inventory of China.

Lake water level is particularly sensitive to regional climatic changes. Declining water levels of lakes and reservoirs will produce a series of environmental problems, such as wetland area shrinkage, species diversity reduction, water quality deterioration, fish production reduction.

Studies on the water level of Xinjiang lakes and reservoirs could offer important practical significance. The findings of this study may provide useful guidance for future water resource allocation and regulation in Xinjiang, according to CHEN.

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