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Long-term changes to the Yellow River delta in China have received considerable attention not only because of the growing economic importance of the delta region but also because they provide a clear example of the dominant role played by anthropogenic effects upon a large dynamic river delta. This paper presents a detailed study on the morphological consequences of reduction in river sediment load and influence of human activities based on sediment load data at three gauging stations in the upper, middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River basin from 1950 to 2007. The results indicate that sediment loads at all three gauging stations display a gradually decreasing trend over the past 58 years. The primary reason for this decrease is shown to be due to various human activities, including the construction of Longyangxia and Liujiaxia reservoirs in the upper reaches, water-soil conservation practices and the commissioning of Sanmenxia and Xiaolangdi reservoirs in the middle reaches. It is estimated that water-soil conservation practices which are a major factor to the decrease of sediment load at Huayuankou gauging station account for 40% of the total amount of reduction, sediment trapping by Sanmenxia and Xiaolangdi reservoirs account for 30% of the total amount of reduction and the 10% decrease is caused by human activities in the upper reaches. The remaining 20% decrease is attributed to precipitation decrease. The reduction of sediment load has directly impacted on the lower Yellow River and the delta region, causing alternate changes between siltation and scouring in the lower river channel along with an increased rate of erosion over the whole Yellow River delta. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.