Aug. 08, 2022

Searching for China’s Water(16) Can Snow Mountains and Wetlands Feed the Yangtze?

Searching for China’s Water(16) Can Snow Mountains and Wetlands keep feeding the Yangtze River?
Date: September 24, 2009
Reported and pictured by: Yongchen Wang

The last night gale didn’t blow our tents away. In the morning, the Moqu River still meandered quietly as if the storm had not happened at all. Although we scared, did Moqu scare too?

the Moqu River in the early morning

the arroyo Moqu River
On July 3rd, 2009, we would cross tributaries of the Yangtze River.
Yong Yang said the way we had passed these days, those tributaries belonged to the south of Tongtian River, including the Nieqiaqu River, the Kouqianqu River, the Moqu River, the Dangqu River, the Danqu River, the Buqu River, and the Gaqu River.
The glacier in the north of Tanggula Mountains (also called Dangla Mountains) has fed these hydrographic nets, and each net has formed its own wetland. Among the wetlands, the Yaqu Wetland, the Moqu Wetland, and the Dangqu Wetland are the large ones.

the sky, clouds, mountains, a meadow, and rivers

The sky still blue, clouds still white, but the mountain and the river changed their colors and appearances

the Dangqu Tributary
The wetland in the south of the Tongtian River contains much more water and oxygen compare to that of the north, However the hydrographic nets in north of Tongtian River, such as Sewu River and Chumaerhe River are less developed than that of south. Meanwhile most wetlands in north have degraded, bearing more characteristics of desertification.

Moreover, in the upper and middle reaches and the source region of the Chumaerhe River, a large desert has been formed, covering an area of thousands of square kilometers in the mouth of Yanzhanggua Gorge(烟幛挂峡谷) in the Tongtian River.

The sand dune right beside the degraded wetland

The river source in desertification
On our way, no matter which river, sand dunes are everywhere along both sides of the rivers. To quote Yong Yang, those high dunes had already formed the shape of star and moon, scattered stretching out.
Yong Yang said, there are mainly three large wetlands in the southern side of the Tongtian River. One of them is the Dangqu Wetland covering ten thousands of square kilometers. In recent years, due to the meadow degradation in their hometown, large numbers of Tibet herdsmen have migrated into and have built villages and towns in the river source region  As a result, the landscape has been tremendously transformed. Twenty years ago, the place was literally uninhabited, while now both people and livestock flourish there.

The Tibetan people are singing when building the house

In the county government office
It has obviously overreached environmental capacity, which, consequently, leads to changes in the wetland.

These changes, surely, have taken place in accordance with the global climate change background.

This time we have not been to the Yaqu Wetland, but there has the same degradation trend. The construction of bridges and roads indicate a great population  migrating tide.

The newly-built Dangqu Bridge

A Hada (a long piece of silk representing good wishes by Tibetan people) tied on the Dangqu Bridge

A road built on the plateau
Yong Yang said, to sum the feeling of this investigation, the climate change had already caused the few remaining wetlands in the area broken up; The degradation of traditional meadows made people migrate to and live on the wetlands, meanwhile they aim on the current primary wetlands.
More than twenty years independent research, Yong Yang’s thought and view is that as village to village roads building, the wetlands of large river sources are all facing serious threats.

A big river surrounded by sand dunes

Water goes through such a place

Not intending to see, but any time, everywhere it is like this

Furthermore, the glacier has all melted and disappeared on 5800-meter-high mountains surrounding the wetlands. What we could see along the way was only bare massif.

Used to be wetlands at the foot of the snow mountains

Snow mountains vs. desertification
The snow line has vanished. The glacier and snow line retreat to the main ridge above 5800 meters height of Tanggula Mountains. The remaining glacier can be only seen on the north sides of mountains, such as the Baronglangna Mountains besides Dangqu River..

The Baronglangna Snow Mountain

Compare to my first river source trip in 1998, this trip I didn’t see glacier shrunken as I expected before the trip. However, these days I kept seeing dry rivers that made people hardly believe the climate change could enormously impact the river source in such unexpected way. It is unbelievable the wetlands were shrinking so common, and the hydrographic nets were degrading, therefore some streams seasonally and even frequently drying up.

The photos taken along the way arouse more and more anxiety

This is supposed to be a big river.
While walking, Yong Yang pointed to us are the meadow degradation characteristic, patterns of bare land, spots shape, fish scale shape, or pits. Even not the experts would recognize these signs easily. In addition, Yong Yand was deeply concerned about the issues such as the rat-plague, the biological chain out of balance, the species over-simplicity, as well as a dramatically decreasing number of eco-friendly meadow species like lynxes and foxes which had been rarely seen.

For this river source finding water trip, a more practical question is that the flooding season of this year coming earlier, all the rivers in the south valley of Tongtian River carrying large amount of water and heavy load of sand, what Yong Yang worries is such hydrological situation would worse the flooding of Yangtze River in July and August. He urged to take the related departments seriously facing the news and take necessary acts for precaution.
In 1998 when the Yangtze River was in deluge, I arrived in river source and learned from the herdsmen that the snowstorm and the delayed monsoon had directly influenced the residents’ life. I hope that the unusual phenomenon in river source this year would serve as an alarm helping people in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River to go through the flood period safely.

Looking for a home

The snowline has risen though meadow and rivers remaining the same

The Dangqu Tributary flowing from Yanshiping(雁石坪) to the Tuotuo River beside our car at dusk

Translator: Lan Bao
Proofreader: Yu Lin

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