Characterizing hydrological connectivity of artificial ditches in Zoige Peatlands of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Zhiwei Li, Peng Gao, Yuchi You

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Peats have the unique ability of effectively storing water and carbon. Unfortunately, this ability has been undermined by worldwide peatland degradation. In the Zoige Basin, located in the northeastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, China, peatland degradation is particularly severe. Although climate change and (natural and artificial) drainage systems have been well-recognized as the main factors catalyzing this problem, little is known about the impact of the latter on peatland hydrology at larger spatial scales. To fill this gap, we examined the hydrological connectivity of artificial ditch networks using Google Earth imagery and recorded hydrological data in the Zoige Basin. After delineating from the images of 1392 ditches and 160 peatland patches in which these ditches were clustered, we calculated their lengths, widths, areas, and slopes, as well as two morphological parameters, ditch density (Dd) and drainage ability (Pa). The subsequent statistical analysis and examination of an index defined as the product Dd and Pa showed that structural hydrological connectivity, which was quantitatively represented by the value of this index, decreased when peatland patch areas increased, suggesting that ditches in small patches have higher degrees of hydrological connectivity. Using daily discharge data from three local gauging stations and Manning's equation, we back-calculated the mean ditch water depths (Dm) during raining days of a year and estimated based on Dm the total water volume drained from ditches in each patch (V) during annual raining days. We then demonstrated that functional hydrological connectivity, which may be represented by V, generally decreased when patch areas increased, more sensitive to changes of ditch number and length in larger peatland patches. Furthermore, we found that the total water volume drained from all ditches during annual raining days only took a very small proportion of the total volume of stream flow out of the entire watershed (0.0012%) and this nature remained similar for the past 30 years, suggesting that during annual rainfall events, water drained from connected ditches is negligible. This revealed that the role of connected artificial ditches in draining peatland water mainly takes effect during the prolonged dry season of a year in the Zoige Basin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1364
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number10
StatePublished - Sep 30 2018


  • Artificial ditch
  • Hydrological connectivity
  • Natural gully
  • Peatland degradation
  • Zoige Basin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Aquatic Science
  • Water Science and Technology


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