Knowledge of the spatiotemporal variations of terrestrial water storage (TWS) is critical for the sustainable management of water resources in China. However, this knowledge has not been quantified and compared for the different climate types and underlying surface characteristics. Here, we present observational evidence for the spatiotemporal dynamics of water storage based on the products from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) and the Global Land Data Assimilation System (GLDAS) in China over 2003–2016. Our results were the following: (1) gravity satellite dataset showed divergent trends of TWS across distinct areas due to human factors and climate factors. The overall changing trend of water storage is that the north experiences a loss of water and the south gains in water, which aggravates the uneven spatial distribution of water resources in China. (2) In the eastern monsoon area, the depletion of water storage in North China (NC) was found to be mostly due to anthropogenic disturbance through groundwater pumping in plain areas. However, precipitation was shown to be a key driver for the increase of water storage in South China (SC). Increasing precipitation in SC was linked to atmospheric circulation enhancement and Pacific Ocean warming, meaning an unrecognized teleconnection between circulation anomalies and water storage. (3) At high altitudes in the west, the change of water storage was affected by the melting of ice and snow due to the rising temperatures, yet the topography determines the trend of water storage. We found that the mountainous terrain led to the loss of water storage in Tianshan Mountain (TSM), while the closed basin topography gathered the melted water in the interior of the Tibetan Plateau (ITP). This study highlights the impacts of the local climate and topography on terrestrial water storage, and has reference value for the government and the public to address the crisis of water resources in China.
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