Social–ecological challenges in the Yellow River basin (China): a review

  • Christian WohlfartEmail author
  • Claudia Kuenzer
  • Cui Chen
  • Gaohuan Liu
Thematic Issue
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Environment and Health in China II


The human–environment relationship within the Yellow River basin has a long history, because favorable environmental circumstances allowed the early emergence of societies along the river banks, and hence, the Yellow River basin was the birthplace of ancient Chinese civilization. On the other hand, the Yellow River is “China’s sorrow” due to the constant occurrences of flooding events throughout history. In recent decades, the Yellow River basin is facing a spectacular economic boom, but mainly achieved at the expenses of the environment by over-exploiting the natural resources provided within the basin, which causes various challenges on ecology and society. Water scarcity, pollution, and ecosystem degradation accompanied with biodiversity decline have been further aggravated by anthropogenic-induced climate change. To address the pressing socio-ecological challenges, various conservation and management plans and strategies have been issued, often consulted by international bodies. This article is a comprehensive overview of the current state and recent developments that have occurred in the Yellow River basin and presents and discusses current and pressing socio-ecological challenges. Additionally, we address different policy and management instruments that have been launched to ensure a long-term sustainable development within the basin.


Global change Yellow River River basin management Socioeconomic development Environmental degradation Human pressure China 



This study was undertaken in the context of the DELIGHT Project (, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, BMBF, by the International Science & Technology Cooperation Program of China, 2012DFG22050 and in cooperation with the Project RCEIS.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Wohlfart
    • 1
    Email author
  • Claudia Kuenzer
    • 2
  • Cui Chen
    • 3
    • 4
  • Gaohuan Liu
    • 5
  1. 1.Company for Remote Sensing and Environmental Research (SLU)MunichGermany
  2. 2.German Remote Sensing Data Center (DFD)German Aerospace Center (DLR)WesslingGermany
  3. 3.Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)LeipzigGermany
  4. 4.Sino-German Research Centre for Environmental Information Science (RCEIS)LeipzigGermany
  5. 5.State Key Laboratory of Resources and Environmental Information SystemInstitute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)BeijingChina

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