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Evaluating Runoff-Sediment Relationship Variations Using Generalized Additive Models That Incorporate Reservoir Indices for Check Dams


The effects of check dam reservoirs on variations in hydrological regimes commonly result in nonlinear runoff-sediment relationships, which are difficult to describe using current reservoir indicators, particularly for watersheds where floods rise rapidly and huge sediment loads occur. In this study, the evolution of the runoff-sediment relationship was investigated through tests for tendencies and abrupt changes in the Xiliu Valley, a typical hyperconcentrated tributary of the Upper Yellow River on the Northern Loess Plateau, China. Generalized additive models (GAMs) were used to simulate runoff and sediment loads as smooth functions of significant physical covariates including reservoir indices. In comparison with the existing reservoir index (RI) and its additional version (ARI), a sediment-associated reservoir index (SARI) was developed to highlight the advantages of more information on reservoir capacities for both flood control and sediment deposition. The results showed significant downward trends in both annual runoff and sediment series. Alterations in runoff-sediment relationships appeared in approximately 1990, and were mostly dominated by the factors of short-duration storm floods and check dams. GAMs including the SARI exerted more negative effects on sediment yield than on runoff and outperformed the models embracing the RI or ARI. Accordingly, incorporation of the SARI could be advocated under changing environments that are mainly influenced by check dams.

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Data Availability

See the Study Area and Data section for data sources. The authors have restrictions on sharing them publicly.

Code Availability

The codes used in this work are available from the corresponding author by request.


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We appreciate very much the editors and reviewers for their valuable comments, and the Yellow River Conservancy Commission for providing valid data.


This research is financially supported jointly by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2018YFC0407401), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (42041004), the Provincial Science Fund for Excellent Young Scholars of Henan (519202300410540), and the Basic Scientific Research Special Fund of Central Nonprofit Research Institutes (HKY-JBYW-2020-04).

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Conceptualization: Enhui Jiang, Lingqi Li; Methodology: Lingqi Li, Enhui Jiang; Formal Analysis and Investigation: Lingqi Li, Kai Wu, Huijuan Yin, Yuanjian Wang, Shimin Tian, Suzhen Dang; Writing-Original Draft Preparation: Lingqi Li, Kai Wu; Writing-Review and Editing: Enhui Jiang, Kai Wu.

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Correspondence to Enhui Jiang.

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• SARI was developed to contain more cumulative effects of check dams.

• Nonlinear GAMs with SARI best captured runoff-sediment relationship variations.

• SARI had more positive effects on sediment retention than on runoff reduction.

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Li, L., Wu, K., Jiang, E. et al. Evaluating Runoff-Sediment Relationship Variations Using Generalized Additive Models That Incorporate Reservoir Indices for Check Dams. Water Resour Manage 35, 3845–3860 (2021).

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  • Runoff-sediment relationship
  • Reservoir indices for check dams
  • Generalized additive models (GAMs)
  • Loess Plateau