The West Liaohe River Basin (WLRB) is one of the most sensitive areas to climate change in China and an important grain production base in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China. Groundwater depletion in this region is becoming a critical issue. Here, we used the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite data and in situ
well observations to estimate groundwater storage (GWS) variations and discussed the driving factors of GWS changes in the WLRB. GRACE detects a GWS decline rate of −0.92 ± 0.49 km3
/yr in the WLRB during 2005–2011, consistent with the estimate from in situ
observations (−0.96 ± 0.19 km3
/yr). This long-term GWS depletion is attributed to reduced precipitation and extensive groundwater overexploitation in the 2000s. Long-term groundwater level observations and reconstructed total water storage variations since 1980 show favorable agreement with precipitation anomalies at interannual timescales, both of which are significantly influenced by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Generally, the WLRB receives more/less precipitation during the El Niño/La Niña periods. One of the strongest El Niño events on record in 1997–1998 and a subsequent strong La Niña drastically transform the climate of WLRB into a decade-long drought period, and accelerate the groundwater depletion in the WLRB after 1998. This study demonstrates the significance of integrating satellite observations, ground-based measurements, and climatological data for interpreting regional GWS changes from a long-term perspective.
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