Mar. 23, 2023

Searching for China’s Water(23) A New Discovery of the Source of the Yangtze

Searching for China’s Water(23)

– A New Discovery of the Source of the Yangtze River

Words and Pictures by Yangchuan Wang

On July 10, 2009, a geologist Yong Yang, a free photographer Yu Zhou, two directors of Travel Channel, Fan Yang and Xiaojin Yuan, and a Tibetan, Zhuo Wu who lived in the Yangtze River source, walked forward along the Tuotuo River, the source of the Yangtze River. After about eight hours walking on the plateau, the source of the Yangtze River was advanced 20 kilometers further than the Jianggudiru Glaciers. At last, the new source of the Yangtze River was located on:
 Latitude 33° 23' 644"
 Longitude 90° 53' 727"
 Elevation 5706 meters above sea level

Jianggudiru Glaciers on initial source flow of the new sources of the Yangtze River (Picture by Yong Yang) 
Jianggudiru Glaciers on initial source flow of the new sources of the Yangtze River (Picture by Yong Yang) 
Jianggudiru Glaciers on initial source flow of the new sources of the Yangtze River (Picture by Yong Yang)
 In 2007 winter, Yong Yang came back from the Yangtze River source expedition, and in a salon of environmental journalists he said that the Jianggudiru Glaciers, which were captured by me in 1998 on the source of the Yangtze River, were melting. I was not too sure at that time, but this time, although we had not reached the Jianggudiru Glaciers, I had to face that fact from the pictures of Jianggudiru captured in Geladandong by Yong Yang. Today, there were still some ice tongues on Jianggudiru, but glaciers like ice tower clusters had really gone. 
 I wondered if the photos of Jianggudiru taken 11 years before were the last or not.


On November 22, 2007, in a press conference of the Fourth Comprehensive Assessment Report of the UN Climate Conference (IPCC), Yong Luo, a deputy director of the National Climate Center, said that global warming would result in changes in the distribution of precipitation in China.
 Yong Luo said that we were very concerned about the impact of climate change on water resources. From the facts which had been observed over the past 50 years, all China's six main rivers’ flows had a downward trend, especially the northern rivers had the largest decline such as the Huai River and the Yellow River. Under such background, in the northern region, groundwater levels had more obvious decline, and groundwater resources were in sharp decline.
 Yong Luo said that the water changes, on the one hand caused a very serious negative impact to the ecological system,  and on the other hand, had brought a great impact to industrial and agricultural water supply. IPCC Fourth Assessment Report predicted that in the next 100 years, the global precipitation and water resources would be further reduced in the mid-latitudes, while were likely to increase in the middle and high latitudes.
 "For China, we are in the East Asian monsoon area, so the future changes in precipitation and water resources had unique characteristics and complexity compared with the global outlook." Yong Luo said that Chinese scholars predicted that the changes of the East Asian monsoon region, especially the summer rain belt, had an obvious role of change in the age period. According to this analysis, combined with global change, Chinese scholars predicted that China's future distribution of precipitation may be more to the north. For example, the current case of summer rainfall was water logging in the South while drought in the North. Such situation in the future may change, and may become drought in the South while water logging in the North.

Jianggudiru Glaciers, the birthplace of Tuotuo River is the source of the Yangtze River.    The foreground was a river originated from Gaqiadiru Glaciers (Picture by Yong Yang)

Glaciers’ bottom are drawn out by melting water, forming ice collapses
Collecting initial source’s water of the new sources of the Yangtze River (picture provided by Yong Yang)

Collecting initial source’s water of the new sources of the Yangtze River (picture provided by Yong Yang)

 A message from Xinhua Website in Beijing on January 21, 2008 said that a detailed investigation report about glaciers on the Antarctic coast published by scientists of many countries confirmed that global warming caused the annual melting rate of the Antarctic ice to increase by 75% in nearly 10 years.
  Agence France Presse reported that Eric • Rignault, a researcher in the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, leading researchers of five countries, conducted this study. They used four satellites’ radar interferometry to measure the periphery of the Antarctic continent, and drew images.
  Their research report said: "In our measurement period, the overall loss of Antarctic ice sheet is very serious. Over the past 10 years, loss has an increase of 75%." The amount of loss was equivalent to an average ascent of 0.5 mm of global sea level. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Research Group issued a report in 2007 which noted that, from 1900 to 2006, the global sea level had risen 10-20 cm. The group also predicted that by 2100 there would be another ascent of 18 cm of global sea level.
  The latest research showed that glaciers were likely to play a decisive role in the melting speed of ice sheets.   
Water of the new river source
We will go to the source of the Yangtze River, but the information I quoted here was the Antarctic ice sheet research of international scientists. Concerning the latest research of the source of the Yangtze River, data was scarce. During our journey there were 12 people, besides Yong Yang, a geological expert, the others were people involved in the media who were Yong Yang’s adventure-loving and nature-loving friends.This would greatly reduce the science value of our trip expedition.
What are we facing? The river source was seriously affected by global climate change.
Yong Yang is walking in the river source
Riverbed of the river source (picture by Guoping Li)
Hail of the river source
 In China, glaciers and mountain snow are "solid reservoir” which can regulate the Northwest's water resources. Rising temperatures made the melting speed of glaciers faster, and the snow-line retreated. According to information provided by the Meteorological Administration of Gansu and Qinghai provinces, experts estimated that in the past 40 years, glacier area in Northwestern China reduced about 1400 square kilometers, and the snow line rose 30-60 m, which directly resulted in a significant reduction in the thewater amount of the sources of some inland river.
 In the past 20 years, the annual rainfall of the northwestern parts increased, but spatial and temporal distribution was more unequal, so it was difficult to be efficiently used. Accompanied by rising temperatures, reduction of glaciers and mountain snow, shrinkage of lakes and wetlands, and increased evaporation, water resource availability in all parts of Northwestern China showed a decreasing trend. According to a survey of Northwest Water Resources Project team in the China Academy of Engineering, the total water resources in Northwestern China were currently only 5.84% of the national total. Average water resource quantity of each person in Northwestern China only accounted for only 80.5% of the national total.
out the future’s water resources situation in the northwest region, experts generally agree that the climate may become warm and humid, but because the northwest base of precipitation was too small, the increase in precipitation was unlikely to fundamentally change the basic situation of arid climate zone. Moreover, with the temperature rising, solid-state water bodies such as glaciers, alpine snow cover and frozen ground melted faster, and evaporation continued to increase. 
 According to information provided by China Meteorological Administration, experts predicted that in the next 50 years, Northwestern China’s average temperature could rise 1.9-2.3 degrees Celsius, which may lead to a 27% reduction in glacial area. Moreover, two square kilometers of small glaciers would partially or completely disappear. Coupled with sustained growth in production and living water, it was expected that from 2010 to 2030, there were about 20 billion cubic meters of water short per year in Northwestern China.

The ecology of the river source are changing

The dry life of the river source 

The river source is changing
Walking on the river source, in addition to looking for a new river source and the flow direction of the river source’s water system, Yong Yang was also looking for the river source’s rocks. For a geologist, each piece of stone was talking about the river source’s ecology, composition, and stories.
A newly discovered rock
Stones in the river source
Bulk sheep
 We do not know if in the global climate change conference in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, at the end of this year, Yong Yang’s river source expedition, as well as global climate change’s impact on the third pole - China's Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, could arouse the international community's attention or not. It is still a problem whether the photographs of the Yangtze River ecological environment could be seen by politicians, economists, and scientists who are concerned about global climate change. Fortunately, now is an Internet age, so the photographs about the beauty and problems of the river source, which were taken by us 12 people in the river source, could be demonstrated here.

Gaqiadiru Glaciers originated the source flow of Tuotuo River

The initial source flow of Gaqiadiru Glaciers (Picture by Yong Yang)

Gaqiadiru Glaciers and Jianggudiru Glaciers see each other across a valley (Picture by Yong Yang)

In nature (picture by Guoping Li)

On July 11, 2009, when we were on the road back, another snow-capped mountain in the mesh water system of the river source let us change directions. The river source attracted us once again.

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