• hydrological trend;
  • the Yellow River;
  • climate change;
  • human activity;
  • distributed hydrological model

[1] The hydrological cycle has been highly influenced by climate change and human activities, and it is significant for analyzing the hydrological trends that occurred in past decades in order to understand past changes and to predict future trends. The water crisis of the Yellow River basin has drawn much attention from around the world, especially the drying up of the main river along the lower reaches during the 1990s. By incorporating historical meteorological data and available geographic information related to the conditions of the landscape, a distributed hydrological model has been employed to simulate the natural runoff without consideration of artificial water intake. On the basis of the data observed and the results simulated by the model, the hydrological trends have been analyzed quantitatively for evaluating the impact from climate change and human activity. It is found that the simulated natural runoff follows a similar trend as the precipitation in the entire area being studied during the last half century, and this implies that changes in the natural runoff are mainly controlled by the climate change rather than land use change. Changes in actual evapotranspiration upstream of the Lanzhou gauge are controlled by changes in both precipitation and potential evaporation, while changes of actual evapotranspiration downstream of the Lanzhou gauge are controlled mainly by the changes in precipitation. The difference between the annual observed runoff and the simulated runoff indicates that there is little artificial water consumption upstream of the Lanzhou gauge, but the artificial water consumption becomes larger downstream of the Lanzhou gauge. The artificial water consumption shows a significant increasing trend during the past 50 years and is the main cause of the drying up of the Yellow River. However, in contrast to the common perception that the serious drying up downstream of the Yellow River during the 1990s is caused by the rapid increase of artificial water consumption during the same period, it has been found that the main cause of this aggravation is the drier climate that has existed since the 1990s. The main reason that the drying-up situation became better in the 21st century is because of the enhanced water resources management since 2000.