This study investigated the attribution of terrestrial water storage (TWS) variations across China to changes in groundwater and human water use. As one vital storage component, the groundwater storage (GWS) derived from the JPL’s (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) mass concentration solution compared reasonably well with the in situ groundwater table depth, with the correlation coefficients ranging from −0.83 to −0.18, all of which were statistically significant at the 95% confidence level. About 71% of the trends in derived GWS had the same sign as those of observations, without systematic deviation, across China. The GWS variation contributed a large portion of the TWS trend in most regions of China, and the majority of contribution values reached 50%–150% in the Hai River basin, the Loess Plateau, and the middle portion of the Yangtze River basin. The dominant role of GWS is closely related to the detected long-term ‘memories’ in both TWS and GWS. The increase of irrigation consumption accelerated the TWS depletion trend by 13.4% in the Huai River basin, while the decrease of consumptive agricultural water use alleviated the TWS decline rate by 4.1% in the Hai River basin. Importantly, the correlation coefficients reached 0.74–0.95 between the TWS change and the residual of precipitation, evapotranspiration, flow into the sea, and irrigation consumption in the four river basins of particular interest. The findings of this study are helpful for understanding regional water cycles in China.
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