Frontiers of Earth Science

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 43–54 | Cite as

Assessing the relative role of climate change and human activities in desertification of North China from 1981 to 2010

  • Duanyang XuEmail author
  • Alin Song
  • Dajing Li
  • Xue Ding
  • Ziyu Wang
Research Article


Desertification is a severe environmental problem induced by both climate change and human activities. This study assessed the relative contribution of climate change, human activities, and different climatic and anthropogenic factors in desertification reversion and expansion of North China from 1981 to 2010. The results showed that the desertification of North China had changed significantly over the past 30 years; desertification reversion and expansion covered an area of 750,464 km2, and the spatial distribution of these regions exhibited considerable heterogeneity. For desertification reversion, climate change and human activity accounted for 22.6% and 26%, respectively of total reverted land. Wind speed reduction and the improvement of hydrothermal conditions were the most important climatic factors for desertification reversion in the arid region of Northwest China (ARNC) and the Three-River Headwaters region (TRHR), and the reduction in grassland use intensity was the most important anthropogenic factor related to desertification reversion in Inner Mongolia and regions along the Great Wall (IMGW). For desertification expansion, the relative role of climate change was more obvious, which was mainly attributed to the continuous reduction in precipitation in eastern IMGW, and the increase in grassland use intensity was the main factor underlying regional human-induced desertification expansion.


desertification climate change human activity relative role North China 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



This research was jointly supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (No. 2016YFC0501002) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71573245).


  1. Chen N, Wang X P (2016). Driver-system state interaction in regime shifts: a model study of desertification in drylands. Ecol Modell, 339: 1–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chen Y, Tang H (2005). Desertification in north China: background, anthropogenic impacts and failures in combating it. Land Degrad Dev, 16(4): 367–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Evans J, Geerken R (2004). Discrimination between climate and humaninduced dryland degradation. J Arid Environ, 57(4): 535–554CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. FAO, UNEP, UNESCO (1979). A provisional methodology for soil degradation assessment. Rome: FAO, 84ppGoogle Scholar
  5. Feng Q, Ma H, Jiang X, Wang X, Cao S (2015). What has caused desertification in China? Sci Rep, 5(1): 15998CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Field C B, Randerson J T, Malmstrom C M (1995). Global net primary production- combining ecology and remote-sensing. Remote Sens Environ, 51(1): 74–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ge X D, Dong K K, Luloff A E, Wang L Y, Xiao J (2016). Impact of land use intensity on sandy desertification: an evidence from Horqin Sandy Land, China. Ecol Indic, 61: 346–358CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Geerken R, Ilaiwi M (2004). Assessment of rangeland degradation and development of a strategy for rehabilitation. Remote Sens Environ, 90(4): 490–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hao H M, Ren Z Y (2009). Land use/land cover change (LUCC) and eco-environment response to LUCC in farming-pastoral zone, China. Agric Sci China, 8(1): 91–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Holm A M, Cridland S W, Roderick M L (2003). The use of timeintegrated NOAA NDVI data and rainfall to assess landscape degradation in the arid shrubland of Western Australia. Remote Sens Environ, 85(2): 145–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Huang L, Xiao T, Zhao Z P, Sun C Y, Liu J Y, Shao Q Q, Fan J W, Wang J B (2013). Effects of grassland restoration programs on ecosystems in arid and semiarid China. J Environ Manage, 117: 268–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Li Q, Zhang C L, Shen Y P, Jia W R, Li J (2016). Quantitative assessment of the relative roles of climate change and human activities in desertification processes on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau based on net primary productivity. Catena, 147: 789–796CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Li S, Zheng Y, Luo P, Wang X, Li H, Lin P (2007). Desertification in western Hainan Island, China (1959 to 2003). Land Degrad Dev, 18(5): 473–485CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Liu F, Zhang H Q, Qin Y W, Dong J W, Xu E Q, Yang Y, Zhang G L, Xiao X M (2016). Semi-natural areas of Tarim Basin in northwest China: Linkage to desertification. Sci Total Environ, 573: 178–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lobell D B, Asner G P, Ortiz-Monasterio J I, Benning T L (2003). Remote sensing of regional crop production in the Yaqui Valley, Mexico: estimates and uncertainties. Agric Ecosyst Environ, 94(2): 205–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ma G X, Shi M J, Zhao X T, Wang T (2008). Monetary accounting of economic loss of sandy desertification in North China. J Desert Res, 28(4): 627–633 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  17. Ma Y H, Fan S Y, Zhou L H, Dong Z H, Zhang K C, Feng J M (2007). The temporal change of driving factors during the course of land desertification in arid region of North China: the case of Minqin County. Environ Geol, 51(6): 999–1008CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Peters D P C, Havstad K M (2006). Nonlinear dynamics in arid and semi-arid systems: interactions among drivers and processes across scales. J Arid Environ, 65(2): 196–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Prince S D (2002). Spatial and temporal scales for detection of desertification. In: Reynolds J F, Stafford Smith D M, eds. Global Desertification: Do Humans Cause Deserts? Berlin: Dahlem University PressGoogle Scholar
  20. Prince S D, Becker-Reshef I, Rishmawi K (2009). Detection and mapping of long-term land degradation using local net production scaling: application to Zimbabwe. Remote Sens Environ, 113(5): 1046–1057CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Prince S D, De Colstoun E B, Kravitz L L (1998). Evidence from rainuse efficiencies does not indicate extensive Sahelian desertification. Glob Change Biol, 4(4): 359–374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Prince S D, Wessels K J, Tucker C J, Nicholson S E (2007). Desertification in the Sahel: a reinterpretation of a reinterpretation. Glob Change Biol, 13(7): 1308–1313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Sivakumar M V K (2007). Interactions between climate and desertification. Agric Meteorol, 142(2–4): 143–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. State Forestry Administration of China (2011). The 4th public report of the desertification and sandy desertification in ChinaGoogle Scholar
  25. State Forestry Administration of China (2015). The 5th public report of the desertification and sandy desertification in ChinaGoogle Scholar
  26. Sun Y L, Yang Y L, Zhang L, Wang Z L (2015). The relative roles of climate variations and human activities in vegetation change in North China. Phys Chem Earth, 87–88: 67–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Tan M H, Li X B (2015). Does the Green GreatWall effectively decrease dust storm intensity in China? A study based on NOAA NDVI and weather station data. Land Use Policy, 43: 42–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Tang Z S, An H, Shangguan Z P (2015). The impact of desertification on carbon and nitrogen storage in the desert steppe ecosystem. Ecol Eng, 84: 92–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tao F L, Yokozawa M, Zhang Z, Xu Y L, Hayashi Y (2005). Remote sensing of crop production in China by production efficiency models: models comparisons, estimates and uncertainties. Ecol Modell, 183(4): 385–396CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Tong X W, Wang K L, Yue Y M, Brandt M, Liu B, Zhang C H, Liao C J, Fensholt R (2017). Quantifying the effectiveness of ecological restoration projects on long-term vegetation dynamics in the karst regions of Southwest China. Int J Appl Earth Obs, 54: 105–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification) (1994). United Nations convention to combat desertification in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa. A/AC, 241/27, ParisGoogle Scholar
  32. Vu Q M, Le Q B, Vlek P L G (2014). Hotspots of human-induced biomass productivity decline and their social-ecological types toward supporting national policy and local studies on combating land degradation. Global Planet Change, 121: 64–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wang F, Pan X B, Wang D F, Shen C Y, Lu Q (2013). Combating desertification in China: past, present and future. Land Use Policy, 31: 311–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wang T (2004). Study on sandy desertification in China-3. Key regions for studying and combating sandy desertification. J Desert Res, 24(1): 1–9 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  35. Wang T (2014). Aeolian desertification and its control in Northern China. Int Soil Water Conserv Res, 2(4): 34–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wang T, Wu W, Xue X, Sun Q W, Chen G T (2004). Study of spatial distribution of sandy desertification in North China in recent 10 years. Sci China Earth Sci, 47(13): 78–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wang X M, Chen F H, Dong Z B (2006). The relative role of climatic and human factors in desertification in semiarid China. Glob Environ Change, 16(1): 48–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wang X M, Hua T, Lang L L, Ma W Y (2017). Spatial differences of aeolian desertification responses to climate in arid Asia. Global Planet Change, 148: 22–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wang X M, Lang L L, Yan P, Wang G T, Li H, Ma W Y, Hua T (2016). Aeolian processes and their effect on sandy desertification of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau: a wind tunnel experiment. Soil Tillage Res, 158: 67–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wang X M, Zhang C X, Hasi E, Dong Z B (2010). Has the Three Norths Forest Shelterbelt Program solved the desertification and dust storm problems in arid and semiarid China? J Arid Environ, 74(1): 13–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wessels K J, Prince S D, Frost P E, van Zyl D (2004). Assessing the effects of human-induced land degradation in the former homelands of northern South Africa with a 1 km AVHRR NDVI time-series. Remote Sens Environ, 91(1): 47–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wessels K J, Prince S D, Malherbe J, Small J, Frost P E, VanZyl D (2007). Can human-induced land degradation be distinguished from the effects of rainfall variability? A case study in South Africa. J Arid Environ, 68(2): 271–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wessels K J, Prince S D, Reshef I (2008). Mapping land degradation by comparison of vegetation production to spatially derived estimates of potential production. J Arid Environ, 72(10): 1940–1949CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wu S H, Yin Y H, Zheng D, Yang Q Y (2005). Aridity/humidity status of land surface in China during the last three decades. Sci China Ser D Earth Sci, 48(9): 1510–1518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wu Z T, Wu J J, Liu J H, He B, Lei T J, Wang Q F (2013). Increasing terrestrial vegetation activity of ecological restoration program in the Beijing-Tianjin Sand Source Region of China. Ecol Eng, 52: 37–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Xie X H, Liang S L, Yao Y J, Jia K, Meng S S, Li J (2015). Detection and attribution of changes in hydrological cycle over the Three-North region of China: climate change versus afforestation effect. Agric Meteorol, 203: 74–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Xu D Y, Kang X W, Liu Z L, Zhuang D F, Pan J J (2009). Assessing the relative role of climate change and human activities in sandy desertification of Ordos region, China. Sci China Earth Sci, 52(6): 855–868CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Xu D Y, Li C L, Song X, Re H Y (2014). The dynamics of desertification in the farming-pastoral region of North China over the past 10 years and their relationship to climate change and human activity. Catena, 123: 11–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Xu D Y, Song A L, Tong H F, Ren H Y, Hu Y F, Shao Q Q (2016). A spatial system dynamic model for regional desertification simulation—A case study of Ordos, China. Environ Model Softw, 83: 179–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Yan W Z, Hua S (2011). A strategy study on the environmental production of the energy and chemical industry base in northern Shaanxi. Energy Procedia, 5: 969–973CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Zhang G L, Dong J W, Xiao X M, Hu Z M, Sheldon S (2012). Effectiveness of ecological restoration projects in Horqin Sandy Land, China based on SPOT-VGT NDVI data. Ecol Eng, 38(1): 20–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Zhang Y, Zhang C B, Wang Z Q, Chen Y Z, Gang C C, An R, Li J L (2016). Vegetation dynamics and its driving forces from climate change and human activities in the Three-River Source Region, China from 1982 to 2012. Sci Total Environ, 563–564: 210–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Zhou G S, Zhang X S (1995). A natural vegetation NPP model. Acta Phytoecol Sin, 19(3): 193–200 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  54. Zhou G S, Zhang X S (1996). Study on NPP of natural vegetation in China under global climate change. Acta Phytoecol Sin, 20(1): 11–19 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  55. Zhou G S, Zheng Y R, Chen S Q, Luo T X (1998). NPP model of natural vegetation and its application in China. Sci Silva Sin, 34(5): 1–11 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  56. Zhou W, Gang C C, Zhou F C, Li J L, Dong X G, Zhao C Z (2015). Quantitative assessment of the individual contribution of climate and human factors to desertification in northwest China using net primary productivity as an indicator. Ecol Indic, 48: 560–569CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Duanyang Xu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alin Song
    • 2
  • Dajing Li
    • 1
  • Xue Ding
    • 3
  • Ziyu Wang
    • 4
  1. 1.Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Institute of Agricultural Resources and Regional Planning of Chinese Academy of Agricultural SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.College of Resources and EnvironmentNortheast Agricultural UniversityHarbinChina
  4. 4.College of ForestryBeijing Forestry UniversityBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations