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Scientists on Expedition to China's Eighth Largest Desert

A team of 15 scientists and experts from the China Academy of Forestry, Gansu Provincial Sand Control Institute, and Lanzhou University started on an expedition to China's eighth largest desert, the Kumtag, on Thursday.

This is the first full-scale scientific expedition across the Kumtag for Chinese scientists, said Wang Jihe, a researcher with Gansu Provincial Sand Control Institute and head of the expedition.

The team will walk across the desert to study its geology, animals and vegetation, surface water distribution, agriculture, stockbreeding and other human activities as well as its desertification process, Wang said.

The team will also collect samples for future research on the desert's soil, vegetation, climate and water conditions, he added.

"Kumtag is a natural lab that tells how a desert is formed and evolves," Wang said. "The study will help us better understand how the arid region in the northwest was formed in the first place and how the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau developed into the 'roof of the world'."

Wang said the team also hopes to get some first-hand information about wild two-humped camels, a rare species that, just like the giant panda, is under special protection by the Chinese government. "Kumtag is a known habitat of the camel," he added.

"Kumtag" means "sand hill" in Uygur. As its name suggests, the desert has the toughest natural conditions in northwest China's arid region.

To date, scientists know very little about the Kumtag, which is located between Lop Nur in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Dunhuang of Gansu Province and sandwiched between two mountain ranges: the Tianshan Mountains to the north and Altun Mountains to the south.

(Xinhua News Agency September 9, 2005)

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