China's eighth largest desert, the Kumtag, has been measured to
cover 22,917.2 square kilometers, according to scientists who have
just returned from a month-long expedition there, Xinhua News
Agency reported on Sunday.
A team of 15 participated in the first full-scale scientific
expedition across the desert, said Wang Jihe, the researcher from
Gansu Provincial Sand Control Institute who headed it.
This is the first time Chinese scientists have measured the
precise size of the desert, between Lop Nur in Xinjiang
Uygur Autonomous Region and Dunhuang, Gansu
Province and with the Tianshan Mountains to the north and Altun
Mountains to the south.
Wang said scientists from his institute, the Chinese Academy of
Forestry Science and Lanzhou
University, walked more than 5,000 kilometers across the desert
and used remote sensing satellite images, coupled with results of
field surveys, to work out its precise area.
They also collected more than 500 animal and vegetation
specimens and at least 1,000 geological readings, discovered two
stratum sections that have since proven valuable, and provided
evidence to support further study on the desert's geological
conditions, soil, vegetation, climate changes and changing river
and lake systems.
Beneath the Kumtag's sand and rock, scientists found clear signs
of a vast dried-up lake. Wang said the team collected more than 100
stratum samples and hoped further analysis may tell how the rise of
the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau induced climate changes in the arid
northwest, how the Kumtag came into being and how Lop Nur, once a
vast lake, kept shrinking and dried up entirely in 1972.
The team also spotted 25 wild two-humped Bactrian camels, a
critically-endangered species, in the central part of the desert.
According to Ma Muli, a forestry official in Jiuquan city of Gansu,
the Kumtag is home to about 260 of the camels. "Most of them moved
here after Lop Nur dried up," said Ma, who was also a guide for the
Very little is known about the Kumtag, whose name means "sand
hill" in the Uygur language, which has the toughest natural
conditions in northwest China's arid region.
(Xinhua News Agency October 25, 2005)