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AMBIO

, Volume 41, Issue 7, pp 682–698 | Cite as

Socio-economic Impacts on Flooding: A 4000-Year History of the Yellow River, China

  • Yunzhen Chen
  • James P. M. Syvitski
  • Shu Gao
  • Irina Overeem
  • Albert J. Kettner
Review Paper

Abstract

We analyze 4000-year flood history of the lower Yellow River and the history of agricultural development in the middle river by investigating historical writings and quantitative time series data of environmental changes in the river basin. Flood dynamics are characterized by positive feedback loops, critical thresholds of natural processes, and abrupt transitions caused by socio-economic factors. Technological and organizational innovations were dominant driving forces of the flood history. The popularization of iron plows and embankment of the lower river in the 4th century bc initiated a positive feedback loop on levee breaches. The strength of the feedback loop was enhanced by farming of coarse-sediment producing areas, steep hillslope cultivation, and a new river management paradigm, and finally pushed the flood frequency to its climax in the seventeenth century. The co-evolution of river dynamics and Chinese society is remarkable, especially farming and soil erosion in the middle river, and central authority and river management in the lower river.

Keywords

Co-evolution Flood history Human activities Positive feedback loop Yellow River 

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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yunzhen Chen
    • 1
  • James P. M. Syvitski
    • 2
  • Shu Gao
    • 1
  • Irina Overeem
    • 2
  • Albert J. Kettner
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Geographic and Oceanographic Science, The MOE Key Laboratory of Coast and Island DevelopmentNanjing UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System, INSTAARUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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