The spatiotemporal changes in surface water area (SWA) in the basins of Northeast China have far-reaching impacts on their economic, agricultural, and social development and ecological sustainability. However, the long-term variation characteristics of water bodies in the Northeast basin and its main driving factors are still unclear. Based on the global surface water dataset, combined with the Meteorological and Vegetation Normalized Index (NDVI) datasets, this study used linear regression and correlation analysis to investigate the temporal and spatial variation characteristics of surface water in Northeast China and its driving factors from 1988 to 2020. The results show that (1) the seasonal surface water area (SSWA) and permanent surface water area (PSWA) in Northeast China increased at the rates of 58.408 km2
/ year and 169.897 km2
/ year, respectively, from 1988 to 2020. Taking 2000 as the node, PSWA and SSWA showed a trend of first decreasing and then increasing. (2) Changes in surface water types in each basin have significant space–time differences, and the transition between water bodies is dominated by the addition and reduction of seasonal water bodies. PSWA decreased significantly in western basins such as the Ulagai River Basin, the Otindag Desert, and the Liao River Basin, but increased significantly in the Songhua River Basin. (3) The driving forces of surface water change in different basins are different. Temperature and NDVI play a leading role in the change of SWA in the western arid region; permafrost degradation under the condition of air temperature rise is an indispensable factor affecting SWA change in the Argun River Basin; the eastern basin with a larger surface water area responded more strongly to changes in precipitation and evapotranspiration. Land-use conversion and water conservancy project construction were the main reasons for the increase of SWA in the Songhua River Basin under reduced precipitation. This research provides a reference for the in-depth study of the characteristics of surface water resources in Northeast China and has important practical significance for the scientific management of water resources in the basin.
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