The arid region in northwestern China covers 2·02 million square kilometres and is one of the most arid regions in the world. Positioned at the central part of the Eurasian Continent, this region experiences little influence from the Eastern and Southern Asian Monsoons and precipitation is formed mostly from westerly vapour. With a hyper arid climate, the annual precipitation in this region ranges from less than 20mm at the oasis area to around 600mm in the mountain regions, whereas potential evaporation can amount to 2000-3000mm per annum. It is reported that strong evapotranspiration characterizes and dominates the water cycle in the arid basins. Nearly all the water resources of the oasis, where the human society exists, come from the mountain areas as river discharge from glacier/snow melting water, rainfall and subsurface flow from bedrock cracks. As a result, the hydrographs of the arid basins are affected by climate change via changes in precipitation partitioning (the ratio of rainfall and snowfall) and changes to seasonal distributions of precipitation and air temperature. These changes in turn directly affect the water yield and the vegetation response. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.