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Drought cause in Kumtag Desert found
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Chinese environmental scientists have discovered the underlying cause of extreme drought in the Kumtag Desert in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and made great advances in understanding the region's climatic characteristics, the China Meteorological Administration reported on July 13.

A file photo of the Kumtag Desert in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

A file photo of the Kumtag Desert in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

During the sixth of a series of seminars on the Kumtag Desert, held in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, scientists revealed that topography and atmospheric circulation are the main causes of the region's extremely dry climate.

Wang Shigong, head of the research group, said the Tianshan mountain range and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau play key roles in determining the region's weather. "The Tianshan range is the boundary between northern and southern Xinjiang. It forms a barrier that prevents water vapor from reaching the desert to form precipitation, unless northerly warm air currents are especially strong. This is a major cause of the extremely dry climate in the area."

Wang said the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, "the roof of the world", has a huge influence on global atmospheric circulation, and is another major cause of the extreme drought in the Kumtag Desert. "Its [the plateau's] height above the sea level reaches the middle range of the troposphere. In winter, the plateau causes the air currents to split up. The effect of the plateau on air currents creates an anti-cyclonic pattern to the north that further contributes to the extreme drought of the desert and surrounding areas."

Lu Qi, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Forestry (CAF), said that, since 2007, Chinese scientists have conducted a series of comprehensive investigations in the desert areas of northwest China. More than 150 scientists and scholars have been involved, drawn from 18 institutions including the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Beijing Forestry University, and the Gansu Provincial Research Institute of Desert Harnessing.

In 2008, scientists built two automatic meteorological observation stations and four wind-measuring stations in the desert to study the ecology of the area and the process of desertification, explained Lu.

During the Gansu seminar, scientists also stressed the importance of protecting the extremely rare Bactrian camel that lives wild in the desert. "It is estimated that there are only around 400 Bactrian camels surviving in the area," said Dr. Zhang Yuguan.

The Bactrian camel was included on a list of endangered species by the World Conservation Union in 2001. Only about 950 Bactrian camels survive, distributed across four regions, including the Kumtag desert. The others are desert areas in Lop Nor, the Altyn Mountains and the Altai Mountains. In China the animal is a class-one protected species.

Located in the east of southern Xinjiang and covering 22,900 square kilometers, the Kumtag Desert is the sixth largest desert in China, with annual precipitation of just 10 mm. Bordering Lop Nor in the west, and the Dunhuang area of Gansu Province in the east, in recent years the area has also been developed into an scenic spot integrating scientific research with adventure holidays, sand-land sports and healthcare facilities.

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