• climate elasticity;
  • land use change;
  • streamflow;
  • headwaters;
  • Yellow River Basin

[1] The headwater catchments of the Yellow River Basin are of great importance for the whole basin in terms of water resources, and streamflow from these catchments has decreased in the last decades. The concept of climate elasticity was used to assess the impacts of climate and land surface change on the streamflow. Results show that for the period 1960–2000 the elasticity of streamflow in relation to precipitation and potential evapotranspiration are 2.10 and −1.04, respectively, indicating that streamflow is more sensitive to precipitation than to potential evapotranspiration. However, land use change played a more important role than climate in reducing streamflow in the 1990s. It is estimated that land use change is responsible for more than 70% of the streamflow reduction in the 1990s, while climate change contributed to less than 30% of the reduction. The precipitation elasticity appears to have an inverse relationship with the runoff coefficient but a positive relationship with the aridity index, showing that the drier the catchment, the more sensitive the streamflow with respect to precipitation change.