Sustainable management of river oases along the Tarim River (SuMaRiO) in Northwest China under conditions of climate change
Abstract. The Tarim River basin, located in Xinjiang, NW China, is the largest endorheic river basin in China and one of the largest in all of Central Asia. Due to the extremely arid climate, with an annual precipitation of less than 100 mm, the water supply along the Aksu and Tarim rivers solely depends on river water. This is linked to anthropogenic activities (e.g., agriculture) and natural and semi-natural ecosystems as both compete for water. The ongoing increase in water consumption by agriculture and other human activities in this region has been enhancing the competition for water between human needs and nature. Against this background, 11 German and 6 Chinese universities and research institutes have formed the consortium SuMaRiO (Sustainable Management of River Oases along the Tarim River; http://www.sumario.de), which aims to create a holistic picture of the availability of water resources in the Tarim River basin and the impacts on anthropogenic activities and natural ecosystems caused by the water distribution within the Tarim River basin. On the basis of the results from field studies and modeling approaches as well as from suggestions by the relevant regional stakeholders, a decision support tool (DST) will be implemented that will then assist stakeholders in balancing the competition for water, acknowledging the major external effects of water allocation to agriculture and to natural ecosystems. This consortium was formed in 2011 and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. As the data collection phase was finished this year, the paper presented here brings together the results from the fields from the disciplines of climate modeling, cryology, hydrology, agricultural sciences, ecology, geoinformatics, and social sciences in order to present a comprehensive picture of the effects of different water availability schemes on anthropogenic activities and natural ecosystems along the Tarim River. The second objective is to present the project structure of the whole consortium, the current status of work (i.e., major new results and findings), explain the foundation of the decision support tool as a key product of this project, and conclude with application recommendations for the region. The discharge of the Aksu River, which is the major tributary of the Tarim, has been increasing over the past 6 decades. From 1989 to 2011, agricultural area more than doubled: cotton became the major crop and there was a shift from small-scale to large-scale intensive farming. The ongoing increase in irrigated agricultural land leads to the increased threat of salinization and soil degradation caused by increased evapotranspiration. Aside from agricultural land, the major natural and semi-natural ecosystems are riparian (Tugai) forests, shrub vegetation, reed beds, and other grassland, as well as urban and peri-urban vegetation. Within the SuMaRiO cluster, focus has been set on the Tugai forests, with Populus euphratica as the dominant tree species, because these forests belong to the most productive and species-rich natural ecosystems of the Tarim River basin. At sites close to the groundwater, the annual stem diameter increments of Populus euphratica correlated with the river runoffs of the previous year. However, the natural river dynamics cease along the downstream course and thus hamper the recruitment of Populus euphratica. A study on the willingness to pay for the conservation of the natural ecosystems was conducted to estimate the concern of the people in the region and in China's capital. These household surveys revealed that there is a considerable willingness to pay for conservation of the natural ecosystems, with mitigation of dust and sandstorms considered the most important ecosystem service. Stakeholder dialogues contributed to creating a scientific basis for a sustainable management in the future.