Abstract

This study focuses on the characters of public perceptions on climate and cryosphere change, which are based on a questionnaire survey in the Ürümqi River Basin. In comparison with scientific observation results of climate and cryosphere change, this paper analyzes the possible impact of the change on water resources and agriculture production in the area. Perceptions of most respondents on climate and cryosphere changes confirm the main objective facts. For the selection of adaptation measures addressing the shortage of water resource, the results are as follows: most people preferred to choose the measures like “policy change” and “basic facility construction” which are mostly implemented by the government and the policy-making department; some people showed more preference to the measures of avoiding unfavorable natural environment, such as finding job in or migrating to other places. The urgency of personal participation in the adaptation measures is still inadequate. Some adaptation measures should be implemented in line with local conditions and require the organic combination of “resource-development” with “water-saving”.

Keywords

climate change ; cryosphere change ; public perception ; adaptation measures ; questionnaire survey

1. Introduction

People’s responses to climate change and the interactions between people and the environment need to be investigated. If people cannot adapt to climate change successfully, human beings can neither benefit from its advantages nor avoid its disadvantages. The perception of climate change is the precondition of human adaptation to climate change. Only with a clear knowledge of the formation mechanism of human perception, could we have a better understanding of human response action [ Leiserowitz, 2006 ]. This research on perception plays a very important part in global change and sustainable development. Scientific assessment and public perception of climate change are preconditions to human response actions, they are the scientific as well as the social base of response actions respectively [ Bord et al., 1998  and Wardekker et al., 2009 ]. In China, Zhang et al. [2005] have studied the public behaviors on adapting to climate change in Northeast China. Tian [2005] made a preliminary study on public perception to temperature by questionnaire surveys and interviews. In general, there is still a lack of systematic research on public perception in China. Consequently, research in climate change perception, as the basic research of the mechanism of human adaptation to climate change, proves to be an unavoidable focus question. Research and achievements in these issues have great theoretical significance for the exploration and enrichment of geographical basic theory [ Zhou and Yu, 2009 ].

The term “cryosphere” describes the regions where water is found in its frozen state on the earth surface where the temperature is below 0 °C at least some time in a year. It includes terrestrial snow cover, glaciers, freshwater ice (such as lake ice and river ice), sea ice, subsurface ice, permafrost, etc., [ Shi , 1998 ]. It mainly exists in areas at high latitude and altitude. Cryosphere is very sensitive to temperature fluctuation and often considered as a detector and indicator of climate change [ Wang and Yao, 2001 ]. Qin et al. [2006] pointed out that comprehensive assessment of cryosphere change and its impacts, adaptation strategies, and construction of the assessment index system for the cryosphere change impacts on ecology, society and economy interactions etc., are the future key areas of the research in this field. In China, research on cryosphere change, environmental responses and adaptation are comparatively insufficient.

In Northwest China, glacier melt water plays an important role in the forming of inland rivers. Profiting from the relatively stable water quantity, many oasis economic systems of local characteristics are developed along with the watercourses. But compared with river basins in the east of China, the economy of the inland river basins of Northwest China is easier impacted by environmental changes. For example, the Ürümqi River is the biggest river in the Ürümqi River Basin. This river provides water for more than 2 million people (Ürümqi city population), but its annual runoff is less than 0.25 billion m3 . The connatural shortage of water resource is the most important factor that results in the server inconsistency between water supply and demand and the fragility of ecological environment. Followed with the development of economy, the contradiction has manifested itself in the water allocation among agriculture, industry, life and ecosystem. Water shortage is now the bottleneck for development of the cities and their social economy. Apparently, the climate of the Ürümqi River Basin is changing due to global warming. Climate change induces changes in glaciers and runoff, and involves serious impacts on agriculture, industry, and livelihoods. Based on data collected by a questionnaire survey in the Ürümqi River Basin, this paper investigates the character of public perception on changes in climate and the cryosphere, and analyzes how the public responses in selecting adaptation measures.

2. Study area and survey methods

2.1. Study area

The Ürümqi River Basin is located in Northwest China at the northern slope of the middle Tianshan Mountain Chain, and south of the Gurbantunggut Desert (Fig. 1 ). In recent years, a large number of water projects were constructed in this area, including diversion projects, water storage projects, water conveyance projects, and pumping projects. It is a typical area of high degree water exploitation and utilization with many existing water projects in Xinjiang province, Northwest China [ Yao and Zhang, 2006 ]. It mainly contains 5 water systems [ Wang et al., 2005 ], namely the Toutun River system, the Ürümqi River system, the Chaiwopu Lake system, the Baiyanghe River system, and the Alagou River system. The Urumqi River system originates from the No. 1 Glacier of Tengger Peak of the middle Tianshan Mountains. The altitude of the river source is 4,000–4,800 m. It flows through the Wulabo Depression and Urumqi city, with a length of 210 km and a basin area of 6,600 km2 . As it is the longest river with the largest runoff in this basin, the Ürümqi River has become the primary water source for agricultural production and urban water consumption of local residents.


Sketch map of the Urumqi River Basin in Xinjiang province, China


Figure 1.

Sketch map of the Urumqi River Basin in Xinjiang province, China

2.2. Survey methods and sampling

The aim of the designed questionnaire is to clarify public perception on climate change and cryosphere change and what adaptation measures public are adopting initiatively. Different from the scientific monitoring of environmental change, this study pays more attention to human factors. We try to quantify the human subjective adaptability under changing environment. This is one of the main tasks of research in adaptation of typical inland river basins in China’s arid regions. The framework tasks include the “water factor”, “soil factor”, “atmosphere factor”, “ecosystem factor”, and “human factor”. So we designed a questionnaire with the main questions about the public perception on the changes and the degree of climate, cryosphere, water resource, and more. Besides the basic questions on the respondents’ social attributions (such as gender, age, nationality, occupation), we designed questions related to adaptation measures preferred by the respondents and the social factors which affect their choice, like their financial situation, social impact, source of information. The questionnaire contains 52 questions. For easy quantification, questions about respondents’ attitudes and opinions are designed into 5 or 3 options with different degrees of meaning. For other objective questions, we designed abundant options by reviewing large amounts of literatures and considering as much as possible. Some of them were designed into multiple-choice questions. Table 1 shows the framework of the questionnaire. The survey manner is a face-to-face investigation, where every questionnaire takes about 1 to 2 hours.

Table 1. The framework of questionnaire
Survey items Number of questions Main contents
Social attributes 7 Age, gender, nationality, occupation, region, educational qualification, etc.
Perception of environmental change 12 Climate, glacier water quantity, irrigation water resource, water quantity and quality, natural disaster, crop area, crop production, phenophase, etc.
Selection of adaptation measures 15 Water saving measures, planting technology, economic cost, etc.
Impact factors 18 Economic level, government activities, insurance, interpersonal relationship, faith, source of information, etc.

If the percentage of unanswered and wrong-answered (not abide by the questionnaire rules) questions in a questionnaire reach 20%, we abandoned this questionnaire. In the end, the survey provided 657 valid questionnaires, after eliminating 30 ineffective questionnaires, with a response rate of 95.6%. Table 2 shows the spatial distribution of the location where the questionnaires were conducted. There were 385 questionnaires received from the upstream area, 98 from the midstream area, and 174 from the downstream area. Figure 2 shows the general attribution of samples . We can see that the respondents are distributed with relatively proper proportions in gender and nationalities, over a wide range of ages and occupations, and thus possess a wide representativeness. The samples’ quantity shows a normal distribution in different ages and different educational qualifications. Most respondents were middle-aged, had medium educational qualifications, and were engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry or individual business. Therefore we assume that the sample of respondents can be used for identifying the public perception on the natural and social environment.

Table 2. The spatial distribution of received questionnaires in the Ürümqi River Basin
Area City & county Number
Upstream Ürümqi county 244
Xishan farm 52
Saldaban 89
Midstream Toutun River area 26
Ürümqi-downtown 30
Urubo area 42
Downstream Wujiaqu 59
Sanping farm 52
Anningqu 63


The general attribution of samples


Figure 2.

The general attribution of samples

2.3. Data quality

Questionnaire data should be checked on reliability and validity before being analyzed. This step intends to test whether the respondents’ selection is stable, whether the survey can be repeated again, and whether the questionnaire structure is consistent. Based on the questionnaire results, we test the reliability and validity of the data referring to the method by Wu [2003] . Results indicate a good equivalence and inner consistency according to the Pearson split-half reliability coefficient (r = 0.729) and Cronbach alpha coefficient (α=0.613). Besides, 26 attitude questions in the questionnaire have been significantly correlated with all questions. This proves the good content’s validity. Factor analysis also proves that the questionnaire has good construct validity (the cumulating contribution rate of 11 common factors whose feature value reaches 64.5%). Based on the statistical analysis, we consider that this data can reflect the contents and aims of this questionnaire relatively good.

3. Results and analysis

3.1. Public perceptions on cryosphere change

Based on scientific analysis of observed data in the Ürümqi River Basin during the period from 1971 to 2000, the average yearly temperature has risen by 0.34 °C per 10 years and the yearly precipitation has increased by 34.84 mm per 10 years [Pu et al., 2005]. Under the background of global warming, the glacier melting speed in this basin is accelerating, too. Taking the No. 1 Glacier as an example, the average mass balance is –234.0 mm per 10 years and the accumulative amount reaches –10,746.5 mm per 10 years for 1959–2004. That is to say that 12 m of the glacier thickness or 20.62×106 m3 of the glacier mass disappeared during this period [ Li , 2006 ]. Our survey results of public perceptions on climate and cryosphere changes are shown in Figure 3 . Firstly, most respondents (75.4%) believe that the local climate has changed but have different perceptions on the degree of change. Of all the respondents, 31.4% judged the “climate change degree” as being “very obvious”, 19.3% selected the option “obvious”, and 24.7% chose “little obvious”. Secondly, for perceptions on the period when climate change happened, 54.2% respondents selected the latest three periods (from 1981 to present). For questions pertaining to “glaciers melting speed”, 64.2% of the respondents chose “increasing”, 23.9% selected “slowing”, and a small number selected “not obvious” or “don’t know”. For the perceptions (on climate change, the period of climate change, and the speed of climate change) among respondents of different attribution, the results show that respondents of different gender, nationality and region (upstream/midstream/downstream) have minor perception differences, while respondents of different age, educational level, and occupation have relatively obvious perception differences. Generally, middle-aged respondents (18–60 years old), high educational level, public servants, and students have the closest perception with scientific observation. Public perceptions on climate change largely depend on their own judging criterion on warm/cold climate or drought/water logging and referenced time scope [ Yun et al., 2009 ]. In terms of judging criterion, “warmer or colder in winter”, “earlier or later frost in fall” or “sooner or later in farming season”, “hotter or cooler in summer” and “TV weather forecasting” etc., are all the main reference standards for people’s judgment on climate and cryosphere change. As for referenced time scope, for instance, people usually judge whether climate changes or not according to the change of their surroundings within a limited time (e.g., the past one, two or three years). Despite a small number of respondents have wrong or uncertain perception on climate change and cryosphere, in the view of overall situation, perceptions of most respondents are conform to objective facts.


Public perception on climate and cryosphere changes in the Ürümqi River Basin


Figure 3.

Public perception on climate and cryosphere changes in the Ürümqi River Basin

3.2. Possible impacts of cryosphere changes in the Ürümqi River Basin

3.2.1. Possible impacts on water resources

Increasing of precipitation and glacier melting speed directly results in an increase of basin water supply. Generally speaking, glaciers have a function of runoff adjustment. The more precipitation, the more water will be conserved in glaciers, and the glacier mass will increase as well. When the precipitation gets less, glaciers melt water will make up for runoff in return. In addition, glaciers are also influenced by temperature. In the course of climate change from warm-dry to warm-wet conditions in this area [ Shi et al., 2007 ], the mountain-pass runoff at Hero-Bridge station of Urumqi River has increased sharply since the mid-1980s. Compared with the years of 1958–1986, annual average runoff has risen by 12.3% in the years of 1987–2001. The runoff of the No. 1 Glacier station had an abrupt change in 1997. The yearly average runoff depth changed from 585 mm in 1980–1996 to 874 mm in 1997–2003, increasing by nearly 50%. The main reasons are the intense warming and continuous rainfall which lead to an increasing melting of glaciers. Valid data shows that the runoff at Yuejin-Bridge station has the same increasing tendency as that at No. 1 Glacier station [ Han et al., 2005 ].

For perceptions on “rivers water quantity change” (Fig. 4a ), 66.4% of the respondents considered the river water as decreasing (including “decrease little” and “decrease much”), while only 22.5% selected the “increase” options (including “increase much” and “increase little”). The survey results of perceptions on “groundwater quantity change” (Fig. 4b ) show that, 47.4% of the respondents selected “decrease”, while only 26.9% selected the “increase” option, with the rest selecting the “no change” option. Obviously, perceptions of most respondents on water resources changes are in contrary to scientific observations as listed above. Some possible reasons for this are shown in Figure 4c-f , based on the options “is there land unreclaimed”, “agricultural acreage change”, “irrigation water change”, and “adopt water-saving measures or not” etc. Figure 4c shows that more than half (53.4%) of the respondents believe that “unreclaimed land areas” are scarce. The relative change of land use type is not definitely due to the increase of “agriculture acreage”, because the most of the respondents considered that “agriculture acreage” is “decreasing” or shows “no change” rather than an “increase” (Fig. 4d ). On the other hand, the investigation of “irrigation water change” (Fig. 4e ) demonstrates that the percentage of respondents selecting the “increase” options reaches 43.0%, which is more than those selecting the “decrease” options (35.9%). The percent of respondents choosing “no” option, in the question “adopt water-saving measures or not” (Fig. 4f ), is up to 65.1%.


Public perceptions on water resources under the background of cryosphere change


Figure 4.

Public perceptions on water resources under the background of cryosphere change

Considering the social attribution of the respondents, obvious differences are at hand when looking at the respondents of different educational levels or different occupations. Respondents of low educational level, economic crop farmer, and animal husbandry farmer have low perceptions on the questions showed in Figure 4 . And respondents of high educational level, alimentary crop farmers, public servants, and students have a relative high perception on these questions, little differences are found for respondents of different gender, age, or nationality.

According to the calculation results from Wang et al. [2005], the average annual surface water resource quantity in the Ürümqi River Basin is 1.133×109 m3 , but the actual available annual surface water resources in the Ürümqi River Basin is only 0.644×109 m3 after the deduction of necessary water consumption by “lakes”, “animal habitat” and “urban landscape” etc. However, the actual amount of water use for production and living has reached up to 0.947×109 m3 . Hence, the water consumption of production and living has occupied parts of the necessary water for ecological systems. It may be inferred from what we have investigated above, with the thriving of the local economy, the unit area water demand for agricultural, industrial and living has grown and this growing consumption speed is faster than the increases in glaciers melt water and precipitation. This unbalanced increase in water demand and supply has finally led to a relative shortage of available water resources in the basin.

3.2.2. Possible impacts on agriculture

Climate change, usually indicated by meteorological factors like temperature, precipitation and solar radiation, has a direct impact on agriculture. While cryosphere change, as part of climate change, affects agriculture indirectly. In Table 3 , the public perceptions on changes of crop seeding time, mature period and yield are listed. The percentage of people selecting “ahead of time a little” for crop seeding time and mature period was 41.8% and 47.6%, respectively. For the crop yield, 50.6% respondents chose the “increasing a little” option. Figure 5 displays public perceptions on changes of natural disasters and the cause of crops reduction (multiple-choice questions). Among the five options, the “increase” option was selected most, up to 55.7%. Besides, 11.2% respondents judged the natural disasters as “decrease” and 33.1% respondents preferred the “unobvious” option. Of all the natural disasters affecting crops, drought was regarded as the primary disaster. Deng et al. [2008] proved that climate change has affect crop planting, structure and yield in the 5 northwestern provinces of China. Results provided in Table 3 and Figure 5 somewhat prove the possible effects of climate change on agriculture. Nevertheless, these perceptions in agriculture change should not be connected directly with cryosphere change, and further research should be based on crop-climate/cryosphere models with physical meanings.

Table 3. Public perception of changes in crop seeding time, mature period and yield
Option Seeding time (%) Mature period (%) Option Change of yield (%)
Ahead of time a lot 15.4 16.6 Increasing a lot 8.2
Ahead of time a little 41.8 47.6 Increasing a little 50.6
No change 21.0 12.6 No change 20.5
Postponing a little 15.4 20.3 Decreasing a little 20.7
Postponing a lot 6.4 2.9 Decreasing a lot 0.0


Public perceptions on natural disasters and the causes of crops reduction


Figure 5.

Public perceptions on natural disasters and the causes of crops reduction

3.3. Public choice of adaptive measures for water resources shortages

For solving the problem of future water resource shortage, it is necessary to identify the adaptive measures which are preferred by the public. The questionnaire gave a choice of 12 adaptation measures (Table 4 ), which were all referred from relevant literature on adaptation to climate change [ Zhang et al., 2005 , Tian, 2005 , Zhou and Yu, 2009  and Wang et al., 2009 ]. In Table 4 , the “M” option stands for other adaptive measures which can be proposed by respondents, but received no answer.

Table 4. Public’s selection of adaptation measures under the condition of water resources shortages
No. Option (multi-choice) Number of people Percentage (%)
A Country invest in the creation of new anti-drought breeds, farmers increase investment to introduce them 53 7.7
B Farmers increase investment in cultivation technique (level the ground, deep tillage to preserve soil moisture, timely weed-cutting after rain or irrigation, etc.) 63 9.2
C Farmers increase investment in plastic film mulching and crop residue cover to preserve soil moisture 97 14.1
D Agricultural planting structure adjustment (reducing areas of high water consumption crops like grain and cotton, and developing low water consumption, high benefit crops, enlarge forest and grass land) 72 10.5
E Government increase investment in improving irrigation technology, popularizing high efficiency water-saving program 266 38.7
F Increasing groundwater exploitation 65 9.5
G Building water-storage reservoir, enhancing water supplying 254 37.0
H Control canal seepage 67 9.8
I Expanding new water-saving technologies, such as sprinkler irrigation, drip irrigation, and low-pressure pipeline irrigation (including agriculture facilities) 56 8.2
G Waste water treatment and re-use 78 11.4
K Reducing domestic water consumption 44 6.4
L Find job in or emigrate to other places 172 25.0
M If other measures, please specify 0 0.0

Respondents could choose multiple measures in accordance with their own perception. Comparing the different percentages of responses in Table 4 , the 12 different options can be divided into 3 types. The first type would be the “E” and “G” options, selected by 38.7% and 37.0% of the respondents, respectively, evidently exceeding other options. The second type is the “L” option, with 25.0% of the respondents. And the third type includes all the other options, selected by 5% to 15% of the respondents. We can see that firstly, it is generally assumed that most people prefer to choose the measures “policy change” (option “E”, and “basic facility construction” (option “G”), which should be implemented by the government and the policy-making department. These kinds of measures are at a huge scale based on the long term, and need a large investment. They may bring the most remarkable return in the long turn. Secondly, some people show more preference on the measure “find job in or immigrate to other places” (option “L”). This could be explained that the public can adapt initiatively to the changing natural environment by striving to seek advantages and avoid disadvantages, and this is also a representation of “climate immigrant” [ Mcleman and Smit, 2006  ; Meze-Hausken, 2000 ].

The personal participation is still inadequate, according to the low responses for options “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, “H”, “I” and “K”. These kinds of measures need active participation and individual’s investment. Due to their direct connection with the public’s shortterm interests and habits of producing or living, these measures should be widely propagated and warmly encouraged.

Furthermore, for some respondents the adaptive measures described in options “F” and “G” (resource-development) are acceptable. Such measures, like “increasing groundwater exploitation” and “waste water treatment and re-use”, can have quick and direct results. But, “waste water treatment and re-use” is so costly that the comprehensive benefit is hard to improve. The ecological environment in the Ürümqi River Basin is fragile and the potential of groundwater exploitation is very weak, thus the implementation of such adaptation measures should be implemented in line with local conditions and requires a combination with “resource-development” and “water-saving”.

4. Results and analysis

As a typical inland river basin in China, the Ürümqi River Basin was selected as a study area for the research on public perception. In the past decades, the climate shows the tendency from warm-dry to warm-wet conditions, with corresponding responses by the mountain glacier melt water in the area. Based on scientific observations, this study focused on the public perception on climate and cryosphere change.

(1) Perceptions of most respondents on climate and cryosphere change are similar to objective facts, while some respondents are uncertain on the environmental changes.

(2) With the thriving local economy, the unit area water demand for agricultural, industrial and living has grown with a faster speed than the increases in glaciers melting water and precipitation. This unbalanced increase in water demand and supply has finally led to a relative shortage of available water resources in the basin.

(3) This survey shows that agriculture changes under the condition of climate and cryosphere change. Many respondents of the survey considered that the crop seeding time and mature period are “ahead of time a little”, and that the “crop yield had a little of increase”. It was also perceived that the natural disasters were getting more, with drought as the main type.

(4) The study on public’s selection of adaptive measures for water resources shortages under the condition of climate and cryosphere change shows that most people preferred the measures “policy change” and “construction of basic facility”, which should be implemented by the government and policy-making departments. Some people show more preference on the measure “find job in or immigrate to other places”. Willingness to personal participation is still inadequate. The adaptation measures should be implemented in line with local conditions and require the combination of “resource-development” with “water-saving”.

Acknowledgements

This research is funded by the “973” National Social Development Research Program “Dynamic process of cryosphere, the mechanism of cryospheric impacts on climate, hydrology and ecology, and adaptation measures” (Grant No. 2007CB411507) and Science of state key laboratory open fund of “The research of typical basin of cryosphere change and its threshold level, adaptation and strategy” (SKLCS08-04). The authors would like to thank Dahe Qin, Yongjian Ding, Hui Guo, Jie Zhang, Caiping Chen, et al. for their contributions to the investigations and analysis. Thanks go to the Xinjiang Climate Center and Ürümqi Meteorological Administration for their help on the questionnaire survey. Sincere gratitude is thus acknowledged.

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Notes

. Considering that people in the city get more environmental information from indirect ways like media or propaganda, the quantity of questionnaires in the city was less than in the countryside. Quality ratio of Uyghur and of average educational level in this survey is lower than the actual situation. Eliminating such factors, the ratios of all social attributions are basically in accordance with the Xinjiang Province Census 2009

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