The role of groundwater in the spatio-temporal variations of vegetation water use efficiency in the Ordos Plateau, China

Haoyue Zhang, Chesheng Zhan, Jun Xia, Pat J.-F. Yeh, Like Ning, Shi Hu, Xu-Sheng Wang

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11 Citations (Scopus)


Groundwater influences the water and carbon cycle by supplying moisture to plants in the semi-arid and arid zones. However, little is known about the response of ecosystem water use efficiency (WUE) to climate change in different groundwater depth (GD) sections. Recent research has shown that plant photosynthesis and growth are closely related to GD via field experiments but the wider recognition of GD effect on regional-scale ecosystems has not been yet established. In this study, we test whether the GD has an impact on ecosystem WUE and its variability to climate change at the regional scale. Based on the observed data of nearly 3000 wells, meteorological data (precipitation and pan evaporation), and the 0.01°-resolution remote sensing datasets including gross primary production (GPP), evapotranspiration (ET), and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), we explored the spatio-temporal variations of WUE and its composites (i.e., GPP and ET), and their characteristics depending on GD under different aridity conditions and biomes across the Ordos Plateau, a semi-arid to arid area in northern China. Results show that WUE increases with decreasing GD due to water availability in the semi-arid lands where WUE variability is mainly regulated by biological processes (i.e., GPP), while WUE is insensitive to the changes in GD across the arid zone where the physical processes (i.e., ET) control WUE change. However, when drought happens the groundwater-independent vegetation in the arid zone can also utilize groundwater, characterized by lower reductions of GPP with the decrease in GD. A dense vegetation condition (i.e., large NDVI) is more vulnerable to climatic disturbance over the semi-arid zone because it tends to decrease GPP and WUE, especially in the large GD regions. These findings have important implications for reasonable land use and groundwater management over the semi-arid and arid regions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number127332
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • Drought
  • Gross primary production
  • Groundwater depth
  • Ordos Plateau
  • Water use efficiency

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