Sciences in Cold and Arid Regions ›› 2019, Vol. 11 ›› Issue (1): 29-40.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1226.2019.00029

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Vulnerability and adaptation of an oasis social–ecological system affected by glacier change in an arid region of northwestern China

JianPing Yang1,*(),Man Li2,ChunPing Tan3,4,HongJu Chen1,5,Qin Ji1,5   

  1. 1 State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
    2 School of Geography Sciences, Shanxi Normal University, Linfen, Shanxi 041000, China
    3 Institute for Disaster Management and Reconstruction, Sichuan University, Chengdu, Sichuan 610200, China
    4 Key Laboratory of Mountain Hazards and Earth Surface Process, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chengdu, Sichuan 610041, China
    5 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2018-04-19 Accepted:2018-10-30 Online:2019-02-01 Published:2019-03-04
  • Contact: JianPing Yang
  • Supported by:
    This work is supported by the Global Change Research Program of China (2013CBA01808) and the China National Natural Science Foundation (41271088). We thank the China Meteorological Data Service Center (CMDC) ( and the Western China Environmental and Ecological Science data Center ( for providing partial meteorological observation data and DEM data. We also thank Gao et al. for providing glacier meltwater runoff data.


The Hexi Inland River Basin in an arid region of northwestern China was chosen as the study area for this research. The authors define the vulnerability of an oasis social-ecological system to glacier change; select 16 indicators from natural and socioeconomic systems according to exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity; and construct a vulnerability-assessment indicator system aimed at an inland river basin in the arid region of Northwestern China. Vulnerability of the oasis social-ecological system affected by glacier change in the study area is evaluated by Spatial Principal Component Analysis (SPCA) under the circumstance of glacier change. The key factors affecting the vulnerability are analyzed. The vulnerability of the oasis social-ecological system in the Hexi Inland River Basin affected by glacier change is of more than medium grade, accounting for about 48.0% of the total number of counties in the study area. In terms of the spatial pattern of the vulnerability, the oasis economic belt is the most vulnerable. With the rapid development of the area's society and economy, the exposure of the system to glacial changes is significantly increased; and an increase in glacial meltwater is not enough to overcome the impact of increased exposure, which is the main reason for the high vulnerability. Based on the result of the vulnerability analysis and combined with the present industrial structure in the Hexi Inland River Basin, near-, medium-, and long-term adaptation initiatives are put forward in the article.

Key words: oasis social-ecological system, Hexi Inland river basins, glacier change, vulnerability, adaptation

Figure 1

Geographical administrative divisions in the Hexi Inland River Basin and the distribution of its river systems"

Table 1

General conditions in the Hexi Inland River watershed in the eastern part of the arid region of northwestern China"

Item Shiyang River Heihe River Shule River
Upstream Midstream Downstream Upstream Midstream Downstream Upstream Midstream Downstream
Climate Annual average air
temperature (°C)
5.0 8.0 8.3 <4.0 6.0–8.0 8.0–10.0 <5.0 6.0–8.0
Annual precipitation (mm) 300–600 150–300 <150 200–700 50–200 42 150–250 <70
Annual evaporation (mm) 700–1,200 1,300–2,000 2,000–2,600 700 2,000–4,000 3,755 2,490–3,033
Glaciers Number of glaciers 141 1,078 1,225
Glacier area (km2) 64.82 420.55 1,334.75
Glacier meltwater (×108 m3) 0.5797 2.979 8.4972
Ratio of glacier meltwater to total runoff (%) 3.76 8.2 32.8
Society and economy Administrative district Wuwei and Jinchang cities Zhangye and Jiayuguan cities, Suzhou district of Jiuquan City Guazhou, Subei, Akesai counties; Yumen and Dunhuang cities
Population (in millions of people) 2.28 2.0 0.43
Economy An important new energy base (wind and solar energy) and economic corridor of dry farming and water-saving agriculture

Table 2

Meteorological stations used and their details in the Hexi Inland area"

Basin Meteorological station Longitude Latitude Time-series
Shule River Mazongshan 97.02 °E 41.48 °N 1995–2010
Dunhuang 94.41 °E 40.09 °N 1995–2010
Guazhou 95.46 °E 40.32 °N 1995–2010
Yumenzhen 97.02 °E 40.16 °N 1995–2010
Tuole 98.25 °E 38.48 °N 1995–2010
Subei 94.53 °E 39.31 °N 1995–2010
Heihe River Dingxin 99.31 °E 40.18 °N 1995–2010
Jinta 98.54 °E 40.00 °N 1995–2010
Jiuquan 98.29 °E 39.46 °N 1995–2010
Zhangye 100.26 °E 38.56 °N 1995–2010
Shandan 101.05 °E 38.48 °N 1995–2010
Ejina 101.04 °E 41.57 °N 1995–2010
Gaotai 99.50 °E 39.22 °N 1995–2010
Minle 100.49 °E 38.27 °N 1995–2010
Sunan 99.37 °E 38.50 °N 1995–2010
Shiyang River Yongchang 101.58 °E 38.14 °N 1995–2010
Wuwei 102.40 °E 37.55 °N 1995–2010
Minqin 103.05 °E 38.38 °N 1995–2010
Jinchang 102.12 °E 38.32 °N 1995–2010
Gulang 102.54 °E 37.29 °N 1995–2010

Table 3

Hydrological stations and their details in the Hexi Inland area"

Basin Hydrological station Longitude Latitude Time-series
Shule River Changmubao 96.85 °E 39.82 °N 1995–2010
Yingluoxia 100.18 °E 38.80 °N 1995–2010
Zhengyixia 99.47 °E 39.82 °N 1995–2010
Heihe River Shagousi 101.95 °E 38.02 °N 1995–2010
Gulang reservoir 102.90 °E 37.45 °N 1995–2010
Huangyang reservoir 102.72 °E 37.57 °N 1995–2010
Jinchuanxia reservoir 102.00 °E 38.27 °N 1995–2010
Nanying reservoir 102.52 °E 37.80 °N 1995–2010
Xiangjiawan 102.85 °E 38.37 °N 1995–2010
Shiyang River Chajianmen 101.38 °E 38.05 °N 1995–2010
Sigouzui 102.05 °E 37.87 °N 1995–2010
Zamusi 102.57 °E 37.70 °N 1995–2010

Table 4

The vulnerability-assessment indicator system of the Hexi Inland River Basin, as affected by glacier change in China"

Objective layer Standard layer Indicator layer and remarks Unit
Vulnerability of the social and ecological system affected by glacier change Exposure Natural exposure Runoff of unit oasis area―ratio of runoff to oasis area m3/km2
Glacier meltwater-recharge rate―the proportion of glacial meltwater runoff to the total river runoff %
Aridity index―an indicator reflecting the degree of climate dryness in a certain area
Oasis area each year―reflecting the scale of the oasis 104 ha
Social and economic exposure Regional GDP―reflecting economic level 104 Yuan
Population density―the number of people living per unit area, reflecting the density of the population Person/km2
Urbanization rate―the proportion of urban population to the total population %
Sensitivity Social and economic sensitivity Change in glacier meltwater-recharge rate―reflecting the change of the proportion of glacier meltwater recharging river runoff
Total grain yield―indirectly reflecting impact of water amount on agricultural production t
GDP output per unit of water―reflecting the effect of water amount on society and the economy Yuan/m3
Adaptive capacity Ecological adaptive capacity Total NPP―reflecting the ability of ecological restoration Gc*/a
Economic adaptive capacity Labor productivity―reflecting technical level 104 Yuan/person
Proportion of high-water-consumption industries―embodying the adjustment of industrial structure
Proportion of tertiary industry output value―embodying the quality of the economy
Social adaptive capacity Number of persons receiving nine-year compulsory education―reflecting the level of education. Person
Engel coefficient―reflecting the level of welfare, namely, the proportion of food consumption to total consumption %

Table 5

Results of spatial principal-component analysis performed in this study"

Item Selected principal components
Eigenvalue λi 3.82 3.3.20 2.86 1.57 1.26
Contribution ratios (%) 23.85 20.74 17.88 9.82 7.89
Cumulative contribution (%) 23.85 44.59 62.47 72.29 80.18

Figure 2

Spatial distribution of the vulnerability of the oasis socioecosystem to glacier change in the Hexi Inland River Basin in China"

Table 6

Percentage levels of vulnerability of the oasis social-ecological system in the Hexi Inland River Basin"

Vulnerability level VI Percentage
Very heavy 0.951 to 2.350 9.52%
Heavy 0.021 to 0.950 19.05%
Medium ?0.219 to 0.020 19.05%
Light ?0.699 to ?0.220 28.57%
Slight ?1.280 to ?0.700 23.81%

Table 7

Results of weight analysis of vulnerability evaluation indicators"

Indicator layer Standard layer
Factor Weight Factor Weight
Runoff of unit oasis area 0.68% Exposure 49.32%
Glacier meltwater-recharge rate 4.79% Sensitivity 32.19%
Aridity index 4.79% Adaptive capacity 18.49%
Area in oasis 6.16%
Regional GDP 15.75%
Population density 14.38%
Urbanization rate 2.74%
Change in glacier meltwater-recharge rate 4.11%
Total grain yield 10.96%
GDP output per unit of water 17.12%
NPP 0.30%
Labor productivity 5.48%
Proportion of high-water-consumption industries 8.22%
Proportion of tertiary industry output value 2.05%
Number of persons receiving nine-year compulsory education 1.07%
Engel coefficient 1.37%
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