Archive for the ‘China’ Category
So said Lord (Julian) Hunt, Vice President of GLOBE and a former Director General of the UK’s Meteorological Office, in an article published in The Times newspaper on 2 April 2013 (behind paywall). Fortunately (for me and all those without a Times subscription), the text of what appears to be the same article has been released to the media by the British Embassy in Beijing. This is presumably because Lord Hunt refers to China.
However, without further comment from me, here is the article in full:
It was the chilliest Easter Day on record, and last month is the coldest March for at least 50 years. But we are not alone in shivering. Across much of Europe, temperatures have been unseasonably cold. In Germany, this has been called a once in a “100-year winter”.
We should not be surprised. It has long been expected that climate change would bring more weird or extreme weather — not just cold but rain, droughts and heat waves — to the UK. So longer spells of colder winter weather are consistent with this. As were drought conditions around this time last year, followed by many months of heavy rain which resulted in the UK experiencing in 2012, the second wettest year on record.
Extreme weather has become more frequent across the world. Australia started 2013 with a record breaking heat wave. Similarly, a heatwave in the US in 2012 (the warmest year on record for mainland America) contributed towards widespread drought which proved devastating for many crops. Russia also experienced its second warmest summer last year. This follows the country’s hottest summer on record in 2010 with states of emergency in seven Russian regions as a result of brush fires, while 28 other regions were put under states of emergency due to crop failures caused by drought.
And then there is the steady increase in peak rainfall rates. These have doubled in South East Asia,for instance over 30 years. It is such a problem that the Malaysians have built a huge SMART tunnel (or Stormwater Management And Road Tunnel) in Kuala Lumpur which doubles up as both a motorway and a six-mile long pipe to cope with flash floods. A similar less pronounced trend is occurring in the UK, which help explains the rise in localised, incredibly heavy showers which have brought flooding from Cumbria to Cornwall. This is caused by a change in the atmosphere called “vertical mixing” in which cumulus clouds become stronger and bigger.
In the UK, the trend is likely to be towards colder winters as a large part of Arctic ice melts permanently (as now happens every summer). The winds over the ice-free ocean could then push colder currents up to Iceland and the Arctic ocean. And as a result of colder waters from the North, the northern UK, in particular, may no longer enjoy the same level of warming from the Gulf Stream as it did when the sea ice boundary was further south.
It is these colder oceans which help to rebut one of the more common arguments used by sceptics to argue that “global warming has stopped”. They often point to graphs which purport to show that Earth’s temperature has not risen in 16 years. But that graph combines land and ocean temperature. Separate the two, and you see that on land temperature is still rising — 0.3℃ over the past decade. More dramatically, in China it has risen by 2℃ over the past 50 years, and 3℃ in the Antarctic over 30 years.
The drop in sea temperature is not just taking place in the Arctic, where the ice is melting, but equally strongly in the eastern Pacific, where winds off the South American coast bring deep, colder waters to the surface. Normally this La Niña phenomenon lasts for three to five years. However, it has been active for more than a decade, caused by easterly trade winds along the equator that have been strengthened by general warming of the atmosphere. When La Niña finally falls away, some time in the next few years, the surface cooling will end. This will increase temperatures over large areas of the globe, disrupting agriculture and fisheries in many countries, and pushing up food prices.
Fortunately, even some sceptics are won round when they experience the problems themselves. The scepticism of some Russian officials has disappeared as they have seen the permafrost melt in the north of the country, and watched the effects of prolonged heatwaves and droughts.
Responsible nations are preparing for the effects of climate change. However, all governments need constant encouragement, in the face of financial austerity and the claims of sceptics, to expand programmes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It is critical they do so, otherwise future generations will have more to worry about than a freezing cold Easter Sunday.
For all those people who have not been duped into believing in the fallacy of the marketplace of ideas, Lord Hunt is someone whose opinions should carry weight. Experts are real and so is anthropogenic climate disruption. So, then, I really do hope that climate change denial will founder on the rocks of reality (and the sooner the better it will be for everybody).
It’s amazing really; thanks to the hypocrisy of the Communist Party of China (CPC) since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, China has achieved in 36 years what Western Capitalism has taken more than ten times as long to achieve. Thanks to Andrew Marr’s History of the World, I recently became aware of the way in which stock markets were first created in the wake of the World’s first commodity trading bubble – the tulip mania of Holland in the 1630s…
Since that time, Western Capitalism has succeeded in inventing and then abolishing slavery (but not before making sure that this colonial exploitation denuded an entire continent of the one thing that might have enabled it to prosper on its own terms)… It invented industry, pollution, and sewage treatment works… It invented colonial exploitation and then made a great show of renouncing it; only to perpetuate it by other means – through the instruments of multi-national companies, stock markets, trade agreements, and global institutions… It extended the right to vote to all men and then even women too… It lifted huge numbers of people out of absolute poverty and tantalised millions more with the promise of a better life… In the UK, we invented mandatory education for all children; and created and later abolished Grammar Schools – favouring instead the Comprehensive system that has succeeded only in failing all children equally…
In the final analysis, however, globalised Capitalism has – just like the Atlantic Slave Trade – served only the interests of those who were already better-off; and it has been spectacularly successful in one thing only – making them even more wealthy than they were before… We may well have eradicated Smallpox but, in the last Century – irrespective of the changes of government – the gap between rich and poor has grown steadily wider and wider. The trickle-down effect of the Reagan and Thatcher era was a cruel myth; in reality wealth has become evermore concentrated in the hands of a super-wealthy elite. Some, like Patrice Ayme, would call it a plutocracy but – whatever you want to call it – its only interest today is in ensuring its own survival. In a way, it is analogous to the Skynet of the movie Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines: It has become self-aware and is proceeding to exterminate its enemy – humanity itself.
As I said, the CPC has achieved all this in only 36 years and it too has now hit the growthmania equivalent of what Marathon runners refer to as “The Wall”… Ten times as fast and just as successfully, having promised to raise all its people out of poverty, it has comprehensively failed to achieve its stated aims. Once again, I find myself quoting John Gray from page xiv of the 2009 edition of False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism:
Along the way, however, the CPC decided to construct a protective fortress around itself in the form of a million millionaires; and a burgeoning middle class… The CPC has embraced the need to tackle climate change but only because it perceives it as a threat to its own long-term survival… Sadly, although it has not taken its foot off the economic accelerator, the fuel tank is now empty… It has lent so much money to the West and seen very little return in recent years… It has cities the size of Lower Manhattan with dozens of skyscrapers built and no-one to rent them to… What a mad, mad, World this is in which we all live…
But don’t just take my word for it, see it and read it for yourself, courtesy of the BBC’s China correspondent, Damian Grammaticas… In the run up to the latest renewal of the CPC’s very own plutocracy, Damian is once again performing a valuable public service by focusing on the spectacular contradictions that the CPC’s multi-decadal abuse of power has caused:
In the past two decades China’s economy has grown by 10% a year and more than 400m people have been lifted out of poverty. But China’s growth has been deeply uneven. Those in the right places with the right connections have been able to become astonishingly rich. There are now 1.4 million Chinese US dollar millionaires. The number of billionaires has grown from 15 in 2006 to 251 today.
Week in China: Guizhou, the poorest province
China’s economic growth has been deeply uneven. Most have seen their lives improve in the past two decades, and 400 million Chinese have lifted themselves out of poverty. But those in the right places with the right connections, usually in the cities, have gained incredible riches. So China today is among the most unequal countries in the world. The serious and growing inequalities are a problem China’s next leaders know they must tackle as the gap between the rich and the rest grows wider.
China’s ever-widening wealth gap
For more of my thoughts on (the climate sceptic) Andrew Marr’s History of the World programmes, you will have to cut and paste the programme title into the search box in the right-hand column.
For more of my many thoughts on China, you can do a category search (or just click here) – which presents all my related posts in reverse chronological order.
On Thurdsay and Friday of last week the BBC broadcast two separate news items presented by Damian Grammaticas, both of which are very worrying. Here below, after a summary of what each video shows, I have provided a link to the BBC’s website (which includes links to more information on each story) and embedded the same video (as posted on You Tube by a third party).
As China’s ruling communist party prepares for December’s handover of power to a new generation of leaders, the main challenge they face is the rapidly ageing population: In the next 20 years the number of people over the age of 60 will double, leading to a situation where the number of retired Chinese people will be greater than the entire population of western Europe. At the moment there are six workers for every pensioner in China, but the country’s one child policy means that China is heading towards a situation where there will be only two workers for every pensioner…
China seeks ways to manage ageing population crisis (BBC website – video may only work if you’re in the UK)
China’s one child policy is unpopular; and it is having some unpleasant unintended consequences that threaten to completely destabilise the entire population distribution: In cities, the one child policy is strictly enforced and many parents would prefer to have a boy, so many want to know the sex of their babies before they are born. Sadly, despite it being illegal for medical staff to tell them, many pregnant mothers do find out and, if it will be female, many chose to have an abortion. As a result of all this, girls are already significantly out numbered at school, which is going to make it very hard for the next generation of Chinese to reproduce.
Chinese leaders facing one child policy dilemma (BBC website – video may only work if you’re in the UK)
It was reported on the BBC News today that China’s growth has slowed from 8.1% to 7.6% over the last three months. Big deal. What does this matter? Either way, it is completely unsustainable!.
I am afraid this prompted another rant from me (albeit subject to a 400-character limit):
“Even at 7% p.a. this would result in a doubling of China’s economy in 10 years. That means a probable doubling of its consumption of the Earth’s resources. In what sense can this ever be considered sustainable? Quantitative growth is not – nor can it ever be – the answer. What the Earth needs is Qualitative development. Economists and politicians need to stop lying to themselves and us.”
The former World Bank economist, Herman E Daly (yes him again), once lamented that: “Anyone who asserts the existence of limits is soon presented with a whole litany of things that someone once said could never be done but subsequently were done”; but insisted that “Continuing to study economies only in terms of the [exchange value of money] is like studying organisms only in terms of the circulatory system, without ever mentioning the digestive tract.”
I am sorry but, apart from saying that it is time the World woke up to reality, I cannot be bothered to say anything else; but I am going to repeat this video:
This is the fourth and final part of my 5000-word essay (researched and written in March 2011) on the water resource problems being encountered within the Yellow River catchment of northern China as a consequence of ongoing climate change. Having looked at the problems being experienced within different parts of the catchment, I now begin to consider whether and how these may be solved. (A situation update is appended after the list of References.)
The problem (of demand exceeding the capacity of the groundwater and surface water system to supply) is far from being solved. In 2009, Benewick and Donald used data supplied by the Chinese Government to conclude that 50% of China’s population lives in the arid northern half of the country but is reliant on 15% of the available water (2009: 60). They also indicated that 3 large-scale water transfer projects were either under construction or consideration; and that the first of these (from the mouth of the Yangtze to the North China Plain) should now be operational (2009: 61).
However, WANG et al have studied the Yellow River in some detail; including interviewing farmers in numerous villages throughout Hebei, Henan and Ningxia provinces (2008: 278). Although they acknowledge that the Chinese Government has considered over abstraction of groundwater as a serious problem since at least 1996 (2008: 277), along with many other analysts, they believe the water shortages in northern China are due to slow governmental policy response and/or implementation and/or enforcement (2008: 293).
Thus, WANG et al concluded that the Chinese Government…“has not created the institutions and infrastructure that will provide the incentives required to make farmers save water. We believe a sustainable environment needs to be built on effective water pricing and water rights policies… Although this is a huge job, we believe it will be more effective and much cheaper than…” the proposed south-to-north transfer projects (2008: 293). N.B. The second of these is proposed to take water 1200km from the Three Gorges Dam to Beijing by 2030; and the third to transfer water from the upper reaches of the Yangtze (Tibet Autonomous Region) to those of the Yellow River (in Qinghai Province) by 2050 (Benewick and Donald 2009: 61).
In 2008, the Communist Party of China (CPC) published its Climate Change White Paper, which included the admission that climate change “…arises out of development, and thus should be solved along with development” (CPC 2008).
Therefore, although China is no less wedded to the idea that economic growth is the best means available to eradicate poverty – and may not be much closer to decoupling economic development from environmental degradation – than the rest of us, it is determined to reduce the carbon intensity of its greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. emissions per unit GDP). In essence, faced with the fact that China must feed 20% of the world’s population using 7% of the world’s agricultural land (Benewick and Donald 2009: 43), whilst watching the latter being reduced by desertification etc., the CPC has realised that climate change is a potential threat to its own survival; and is therefore determined to pursue (as per the CCWP) both mitigation and adaptation strategies.
The Yellow River basin is the ancient birthplace of Chinese civilisation; and home to a significant proportion of the current population. It is the source of a large amount of industrial and agricultural enterprise; and the river is also used as a major source of hydroelectric power generation.
The length of the river and the size of the catchment result in a wide range of climatic and vegetation zones, ranging from the high-altitude glaciated valleys of Qinghai Province to the west, to the North China Plain; with the River passing through the very arid Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (between Yinchuan and Hohot) on its way to the sea. As such, although average rainfall across the catchment is nearly 500mm/yr, actual rainfall ranges from in excess of 750mm/yr in the south; to less than 150mm/yr in the north.
The Yellow River basin includes very significant thicknesses of sedimentary rocks and superficial deposits, which form a complex hydrogeological system capable of storing very large volumes of good quality groundwater (where it falls and can be recharged without being evaporated).
With regard to mineral resources, the Yellow River basin contains more than 25% of China’s oil and more than 50% of its coal reserves and, consequently, it is the focus of a considerable amount of industrial activity. As such, the demand for water is very high and, despite the size of the Yellow River, not all of this can be met from surface water (in part due to climatic variations along its length). Therefore, very large volumes of groundwater are also abstracted to meet the demands of both urbanised industrial and domestic water supply. Therefore, in addition to a general excess of demand over supply, pollution of both surface water and groundwater are also serious problems.
Although the Chinese Government has been aware of the problems for many years, existing policy and legislation appear to have had little positive effect. Furthermore, although very considerable sums of money have been spent on large scale water transfer projects, there remains a significant possibility that the real solution lies in better demand management, including market-based solutions to maximise the efficiency of all water use.
In conjunction with continuing improvements in the effectiveness/enforcement of legislation designed to encourage polluter responsibility and/or pollution prevention, it is therefore to be hoped that, in the face of continuing concern over the potential impacts of ongoing climate change, all of this may yet prevent potentially-catastrophic unsustainable use of available water resources.
Benewick, R. and Donald, S. (2009), The State of China Atlas. Berkeley CA: UCP Press.
CPC (2008), White Paper: China’s Policies and Actions on Climate Change. Available at http://www.china.org.cn/government/news/2008-10/29/content_16681689_5.htm [accessed 11/05/2011].
HAN, Zhantao et al., (2009), ‘Groundwater balance and circulation in key areas of the Yellow River basin’, in Bulletin of the Geological Survey of Japan, 60 (1/2). Tsukuba: GSJ, pp.59-86.
IPCC (2007), AR4 Summary for Policymakers. Geneva: IPCC.
MATSUOKA, Norikazu et al., (2009), ‘Permafrost and hydrology in the source area of the Yellow River’, in Bulletin of the Geological Survey of Japan, 60 (1/2). Tsukuba: GSJ, pp.39-57.
MENGXIONG, Chen (2000), ‘Distribution and exploitation of groundwater resources in China’, in MENGXIONG, Chen and ZUHUANG, Cai, (eds), Groundwater resources and the related environ-hydrogeologic problems in China. Beijing: Seismological Press, pp.28-37.
MENGXIONG, Chen and ZUHUANG, Cai, (2000), ‘Groundwater resources and hydro-environmental problems in China’, in MENGXIONG, Chen and ZUHUANG, Cai, (Eds), Groundwater resources and the related environ-hydrogeologic problems in China. Beijing: Seismological Press, pp.38-44.
Mori, Koji et al., (2009), ‘Large-scale and high-performance groundwater flow modelling and simulation for water resource management in the Yellow River basin’, in Bulletin of the Geological Survey of Japan, 60 (1/2). Tsukuba: GSJ, pp.131-46.
Muraoka, Hirofumi et al., (2009), ‘Geological model of the Yellow River basin for the long-term groundwater simulation’, in Bulletin of the Geological Survey of Japan, 60 (1/2). Tsukuba: GSJ, pp.117-30.
Parker, P. (2010), World History. London: Dorling Kindersley.
Tamanyu, Shiro et al., (2009), ‘Geological interpretation of groundwater level lowering in the North China Plain’, in Bulletin of the Geological Survey of Japan, 60 (1/2). Tsukuba: GSJ, pp.105-15.
Uchida, Youhei et al., (2009), ‘Groundwater quality and stable isotope compositions in the Yellow River basin’, in Bulletin of the Geological Survey of Japan, 60 (1/2). Tsukuba: GSJ, pp.87-104.
WANG, Jinxia, et al., (2008), ‘Understanding the water crisis in northern China’, in SONG, L. and Woo, China’s Dilemma: Economic Growth, the Environment and Climate Change. Canberra: ANU Press, pp.276-96.
WEN, Dongguang et al., (2009), ‘Outline of the Yellow River basin of China’, in Bulletin of the Geological Survey of Japan, 60 (1/2). Tsukuba: GSJ, pp.9-18.
WWF (2007), ‘Yellow River (Huang He)’ [online], WWF. Available at: http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/about_freshwater/rivers/yellow_river/ [accessed 04/04/2011].
YRCC (2007a), ‘About YR’ [online], Yellow River Conservancy Commission (YRCC). Available at: http://www.yrcc.gov.cn/eng/about_yr/about.htm [accessed 04/04/2011].
YRCC (2007b), ‘Strategy for Flood Control of the Yellow River’ [online], Yellow River Conservancy Commission (YRCC). Available at: http://www.yrcc.gov.cn/eng/about_yr/jj_09471025026.html [accessed 06/04/2011].
YRCC (2007c), ‘The History and Main Achievements of Soil and Water Conservation’ [online], Yellow River Conservancy Commission (YRCC). Available at: http://www.yrcc.gov.cn/eng/about_yr/jj_15462525082.html [accessed 08/04/2011].
YRCC (2007d), ‘Development and Utilization of Water Resources’ [online], Yellow River Conservancy Commission (YRCC). Available at: http://www.yrcc.gov.cn/eng/about_yr/jj_13362425174.html [accessed 08/04/2011].
ZHANG, Eryong et al., (2009), ‘Regional geology and hydrogeology of the Yellow River basin’, in Bulletin of the Geological Survey of Japan, 60 (1/2). Tsukuba: GSJ, pp.19-32.
In May 2011, the Communist Party of China (CPC) published its 12th Five Year Plan, which re-affirms the principle (first alluded to in the 2008 White Paper) that climate change “arises out of development, and should thus be solved along with development”. Therefore, after decades of insisting that economic development must not be impeded by environmental concerns, the CPC has now officially conceded that climate change is a real problem; that humans are its cause; and that doing nothing is not an option. It must be hoped that the rest of the World will soon do the same; especially since China will probably be one of the last places on Earth to actually stop burning fossil fuels. What we most certainly cannot afford to do is to continue pointing the finger at China and saying “Well if they can burn them then so will I”. Such a childish response does not help anyone; and will guarantee unintended ecocide becomes a reality. In short, it may well be humanity’s epitaph.
This is the third of four posts regarding the Yellow River basin in northern China. Having described the geography and geology (Part 1) and the hydrogeology (Part 2), it is now time to look at the extent to which (a) the system is over-subscribed and (b) climate change is set to make the situation worse.
Overall Resource Assessment
There are nine major multi-purpose projects and hydropower stations constructed on the main stream of the Yellow River; and four under construction. The total capacity of the 13 reservoirs is (or will be) in excess of 56 billion m3; with in excess of 35 billion m3 of effective storage. The total installed capacity is (or will be) just over 9 million KW, with an annual average power generation capacity in excess of 34 billion kWh. This represents approximately 30% of the total capacity of the main stream for both installation and power generation and, as the YRCC point out, in addition to exploiting a latent natural resource this “…also brings tremendous comprehensive benefits in terms of flood control… siltation reduction, irrigation, water supply etc, which plays an important role in promoting national economic development and harnessing the Yellow River” (YRCC 2007d).
In 2000, a collection of research papers by Mengxiong Chen (former chief hydrogeologist within the Ministry of Geology and Mineral Resources) and Zuhuang Cai (a fellow-member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences) were published in Beijing in English. Within this volume, MENGXIONG (2000) presents a wealth of statistics for the entire country but, (unfortunately in the present context), not in a way that enables data for the Yellow River Basin as a whole to be extracted. However, he does highlight the fact that many “of the important cities in China… are dependent chiefly on groundwater”; a category in which he includes Xi’an and Baotou. Indeed, after noting that the demand for water in some cities including Xi’an is in excess of 1 million cubic metres per day, he also notes that “the growth of urban population and the rapid development in industry and agriculture, water demand has also increased by 40 times the output in the early 1950s” (MENGXIONG 2000: 35).
Growth in the industrial demand for water appears to be impacting on agriculture because, citing as an example the city of Cangzhou (on the North China Plain but outside the Yellow River Basin), Mengxiong and Zuhuang record that water levels in city wells have dropped 60 metres over recent decades; creating a large cone of depression in the area an leading to the failure of 38% of irrigation wells in the surrounding area (MENGXIONG and ZUHUANG 2000: 43). Therefore, although there is little or no published data for cities within the Yellow River Basin, given that Xi’an and Baotou have been highlighted, it would seem likely that similar problems may exist – or soon develop – in those areas and/or in proximity to other major centres of industrial development such as Lanzhou, Hohot, and Taiyuan.
According to the YRCC, up to the end of 1996, a total investment of 42 billion Yuan had been made by the State government in over 10,000 reservoirs of various sizes; over 33,000 pumping stations; and over 380,000 wells. Numerous irrigation projects have reduced the adverse impact of lower-than-average rainfall (YRCC 2007d).
However, this success has been achieved without regard to the sustainability or otherwise of such increased anthropogenic use of water (see the discussion of Groundwater Modelling results below).
In 1975, the Water Resources Protection Bureau of the Yellow River Basin was set up, which led to the beginnings of water resource protection in the form of water quality monitoring, environmental management, and scientific research. However, according to the YRCC, the water quality monitoring work in the Yellow River Basin actually started in 1972, under the auspices of the Department of Public Health; with the YRCC only formally taking over responsibility for the monitoring on the Yellow River in 1978. However, responsibility for water quality monitoring work on tributaries was transferred to the water conservancy and environment protection bureaux within provincial government (YRCC 2007d).
The major industrial centres within the Yellow River basin are Lanzhou, Yinchuan, Baotou, and Sanmenxia on the main river; and Xining, Taiyuan, Xi’an, Luoyang, and Tai’an on the tributaries (see WEN et al Figure 4 – below). Although population growth has been minimal, continuing urbanisation and the improved living standards have resulted in rapid increases in industrial development and agricultural production. Therefore, despite improved regulation over recent decades, large volumes of untreated industrial effluent continue to be discharged into the Yellow River and its tributaries, having a continued adverse effect on surface water quality (YRCC 2007d).
WEN et al Figure 4 Major cities in Yellow River basin
By the end of 1994, a total of 340 water quality monitoring stations (monitoring at least 40 parameters) and 30 laboratories had been established within the entire catchment. However, it would appear that this monitoring has only served to record a significant increase in effluent being discharged to surface water over time. The YRCC currently acknowledge the existence of at least 300 major pollutant sources on the Yellow River alone and, according to analysis of the 1997 water quality monitoring data, only 17% of the total river length has water of a quality that meets minimum drinking water standards; such that it is restricting economic development of the Yellow River Basin (YRCC 2007d).
Referring to his previous work and that of other fellow-contributors, Mengxiong also states that in more than 40 cities (across China as a whole) groundwater is polluted to varying degrees by harmful substances such as arsenic, chromium, cyanide, fertilisers, insecticides, mercury and phenols; and that such pollution is found in both shallow and deeper aquifers (MENGXIONG 2000: 36).
Having constructed their three-dimensional numerical groundwater flow model, Mori et al first simulated groundwater flow with no human intervention (no abstraction from either river or groundwater) and compared this to data for the upper and lower reaches of the catchment in the 1960s (for which sufficient reliable data are available) and obtained a good correlation with observational data (Mori et al. 2009: 136-40).
Much of the subsequent modelling work undertaken has focussed on the North China Plain, not strictly part of the Yellow River Catchment, because this is where population density and/or groundwater abstraction is greatest. This predicted that, if current abstraction is continued from the deep aquifer, a further drop of 1m per year should be expected. Whereas, if all abstraction were to cease, piezometric levels would recover in about 5 years (Mori et al. 2009: 140-43).
No modelling of future increased abstraction was undertaken. No reason for this is given and, although this may reflect unstated government policy regarding population and/or development control, it is hard to see how a moratorium on all abstraction could last 20 years.
However, as an indicative tool for the analysis of a problem, the results speak for themselves: Current rates of abstraction are unsustainable in the long-term.
Because of frequent droughts affecting flows in the Yellow River basin, government action has been taken at both National and Provincial level to put in place a variety of demand management measures, such as constructing water conservancy projects; improving irrigation efficiency; and soil conservation schemes (as discussed above).
As part of its 11th Five Year Plan (2006-2010) – indeed part of a more widespread acceptance of market economics – the Chinese Government has allowed the price charged for water used to be increased in order to moderate demand (YRCC 2007d).
Tomorrow, in the final part of this presentation of my essay on the subject of the water resources of the Yellow River, I will discuss potential solutions to the problems climate change is causing; and discuss the conclusions that can be drawn from all of the information presented. Furthermore, in addition to providing details of all the references consulted in the process, I will also offer an update on the situation since I wrote this essay in March 2011 (e.g. the 12th Five Year Plan published in November 2011).
This is the second of four posts presenting my research into the ways in which climate change is impacting the environment within the Yellow River basin. Having described the geography and geology in Part 1 (yesterday), this second part looks in detail at the hydrogeology of the three distinct geographic zones within the surface water catchment.
The Tibetan Plateau
Based on observational data and extensive modelling, the IPCC (AR4 2007) has concluded that temperature changes induced by anthropogenic global warming (AGW) have already been – and will continue to be – most pronounced at higher latitudes.
Nevertheless, studies at lower latitudes in China have found evidence of AGW-induced temperature changes at high altitude; where conditions are similar to those nearer sea level at higher latitudes. However, Tibetan mountain permafrost is not as thick as that at high latitudes; and its distribution is highly dependent on slope aspect. Furthermore, irrespective of location, the presence of permafrost – unlike glaciation – is not always readily apparent because it is overlain by a seasonally thawed layer (the active layer) usually less than 3 metres thick (MATSUOKA et al. 2009: 39-40).
A variety of data collected at the Geological Environmental Monitoring Station of Qinghai Province in 2002 suggests groundwater levels are falling; these include the downward migration of spring lines and discharges within alluvial fans; the reduction in valley-bottom areas covered by moorland; the disappearance of thermal springs; and the drop of groundwater levels in densely-populated areas (cited in HAN et al. 2009: 59).
According to Mori et al., who have undertaken a detailed three-dimensional modelling of the entire basin, groundwater resources are limited in the Tibetan Plateau region because there are few sedimentary basin structures to contain them and, therefore, surface water is the main source of water for agricultural and domestic use (Mori et al. 2009: 131).
Major ion studies of the hydrochemistry of groundwater throughout the Yellow River basin have established that bicarbonate type groundwater dominates beneath the Tibetan Plateau; whereas isotope studies (of hydrogen and oxygen) indicate that, in general, most groundwater has been subject to minimal surface evaporation prior to sub-surface percolation (HAN et al. 2009: 66-7). Exceptions to this general rule are highlighted in subsequent sections of this essay. Groundwater in the Yellow River source area (i.e. the Tibetan Plateau) is calcium-bicarbonate type, except for sodium-sulphate type thermal spring water at the provincial capital of Xining (Uchida et al. 2009: 89).
The degradation and/or disintegration of permafrost leads to the deeper percolation of subsurface water. Furthermore, the fact that lake shrinkage has been observed implies that the subsequent reduction in interflow to lakes is greater than any increase in surface runoff from melting glaciers. Based on the results of a two-year intensively instrumented study, it has been concluded that, at current rates of change, the shallow Tibetan mountain permafrost (i.e. where it is currently less than 15m thick now) could thaw completely within 50 years (MATSUOKA et al. 2009: 40-2).
At high altitude, therefore, groundwater circulation is affected by the presence and/or seasonal thawing of permafrost. As such, two separate groundwater systems have been identified; unconfined groundwater in unconsolidated strata; and deeper groundwater in well-fractured bedrock (HAN et al. 2009: 75).
Water balance calculations undertaken by the Geological Survey of Qinghai Province, from 1956-67 and from 1977-99, show that there is only a positive change in water storage in years of high rainfall and low evaporation. Notwithstanding the absence of data for 1968-76, there appears to be a long–term drying trend; with only 4 out of 23 years since 1977 recording a surplus. Furthermore, droughts lasting 2 or 3 years were sufficient to cause no-flow events in 1961, 1979, and 1997 (HAN et al. 2009: 80-1).
The Loess Plateau
In the area around Yinchuan, Quaternary deposits are typically in excess of 1700 metres thick, with at least 3 separate aquifers (one unconfined and two confined) being widely recognised. Downstream of the most arid climatic area (i.e. in the Hubao Plain below Baotou), the occurrence of unconfined groundwater is more sporadic and only a single confined aquifer has been identified (HAN et al. 2009: 60-1).
In the Guanzhong basin (i.e. the Wei catchment of the northern half of Shaanxi Province, around the city of Xi’an), groundwater is relatively deep. As such, it should be less vulnerable to pollution than elsewhere, which may be just as well given that this is a relatively densely-populated area. In the Taiyuan basin (in the extreme eastern part of the deeply-incised Loess Plateau) the recharge areas are mainly limestone outcrops; with abstraction mainly occurring from Quaternary strata in the valley bottom of the River Fen tributary. Here again, however, there are two distinct groundwater bodies; unconfined and confined (HAN et al. 2009: 62-5).
Sulphate-bicarbonate waters are dominant beneath the Loess Plateau; and isotope studies indicate that evidence of evaporation, mineralisation, and/or salinisation are widespread within the shallow and/or unconfined aquifers of the Yinchuan and Hubao Plains. Furthermore, within deeper aquifers here – and/or with increasing distance from recharge areas elsewhere – hydrochemistry becomes complex; with a wide variety of groundwater types having been identified due to the large range of rock types present (HAN et al. 2009: 67-73).
However, in general, the same two groundwater types predominate here; with a clear division between shallow calcium-bicarbonate groundwater deeper sodium-sulphate groundwater (Uchida et al. 2009: 89).
Two circulation systems have been identified in the area of the Yinchuan Plain; local (shallow) and regional (deep); with typical residence times (i.e. carbon-14 ages) of less than 10 years and greater than 5000 years respectively. In the Taiyuan basin, two groundwater circulation patterns have also been identified. Whereas shallow groundwater flow is determined by topography, deeper groundwater flow and/or discharge his heavily affected by artificial pumping. Where unconfined groundwater is present, surface discharges are generally due to vertical flows induced by evaporation; causing salinisation (HAN et al. 2009: 76-8).
Data from 2000 to 2004 for the Yinchuan Plain area suggest that typically 80% of groundwater recharge is artificially induced by irrigation methods; whereas evaporation and abstraction account for 47% and 22% of groundwater losses respectively. It is believed that current annual abstraction is probably equivalent to at least 33% of the mineable resource beneath the plain. Equivalent data for the Habao Plain suggest overall abstraction is equivalent to 65% or total recharge; but with groundwater mining (i.e. unsustainable abstraction) occurring in densely-populated areas. In the Taiyuan basin, the situation is much worse; with abstraction already greater than recharge and groundwater levels continuously falling. No comparable data are available for the Guanzhong basin (HAN et al. 2009: 81-3).
The North China Plain
The water level in the Yellow River is typically 3 to 8 metres higher than the groundwater level beneath the surrounding alluvial plain, which makes the Yellow River an important source of groundwater recharge in the area; mainly as a result of large-scale irrigation schemes: As such, the zone of influence of the Yellow River extends between 13 and 26 km on the north bank; and up to 20km on the south bank. Within the surrounding alluvial deposits, groundwater is believed to circulate to a depth of 350 metres and can be found in four separate Quaternary units Q4, Q3, Q2, and Q1 (HAN et al. 2009: 65-6).
Within the lower reaches of the Yellow River, shallow bicarbonate type groundwater is mostly of good quality; with low overall mineralisation and a typical hardness of less than 450 mg/l (HAN et al. 2009: 74). In Shandong Province, many shallow groundwater samples have been found to be sodium-bicarbonate type; with some resembling the composition of sea water (Uchida et al. 2009: 89). However, deeper fossil groundwater has been found to be of meteoric origin; between 10,000 and 25,000 years old (Uchida et al. 2009: 101-2, and Tamanyu et al. 2009: 110).
Annual rainfall is typically between 600 and 700 mm, which would appear to have been equivalent to 87% of long-term groundwater recharge in the area (i.e. after evaporation) due to the unconsolidated nature of the fine clay and silty-clay soils. However, recharge direct from the river and via irrigation systems are also important (HAN et al. 2009: 79).
Water balance data for the lower reaches of the Yellow River suggest that infiltration from precipitation represents 60% of recharge, with artificially-induced infiltration and direct leakage from the Yellow River accounting for 26% and 11% respectively; whereas pumping and evaporation account for 37% and 60% of groundwater losses respectively (HAN et al. 2009: 83).
Average groundwater levels in confined Quaternary aquifers beneath the Yellow River (up to 400 m below sea level) have fallen from less than 5m below ground level in 1980, to greater than 30m in 2002. Furthermore, comparative piezometric (contour) maps for these confined aquifers beneath the North China Plain as a whole indicate level reductions of up to 80m, in the same time period, in densely populated areas such as Dezhou and Canzhou.
However, in proximity to the Yellow River, little change has been observed along much of its length (from Xingxiang down to the Provincial Capital of Jinan); whereas increased abstraction would appear to have caused a 60m drop in the area around Binzhou (Tamanyu et al. 2009: 110-1).
Tomorrow, in Part 3 of this essay, I pull all of this information together to look at the relationship between economic development and water pollution; and to look at how groundwater modelling is being used to help assess and predict problems.
Following my scene-setting yesterday, this is the first of four posts presenting my case-study of the challenges posed by ongoing climate change in the Yellow River basin of northern China. All references cited will be listed in Part 4 on Friday.
The problematisation of water resources in the Yellow River basin
The Yellow River is the second-longest river in China (after the Yangtze River) and, at 5,463km, the seventh-longest in the world. In China, the Yellow River (Huang He) is known as the “Mother River of China” because it is considered by many to be the birthplace of Chinese civilization.
It is called the Yellow River because huge amounts of loess sediment turn the water that colour in its lower reaches. Here, the average annual sediment flow is 1.6 billion tonnes with a sediment content of 35kg/m3. An average of 400 million tonnes of sediment is deposited every year; resulting in an increase in the elevation of the river bed of 10cm/year (Yellow River conservancy Commission[YRCC], 2007a).
The source of the Yellow River (in Qinghai Province) is located in the rain shadow of the Himalayas; within the high altitude Tibet-Qinghai plateau (greater than 4000 m above sea level (ASL). This forms the first of three distinct topographical areas through which the Yellow River flows; the other two being the Loess Plateau (1000-2000 mASL); and the North China Plain.
After this section and the two that follow (regarding human geography and hydrogeology respectively), this threefold geographical division of the Yellow River basin will be used to structure the discussion of groundwater resources; followed by a multi-faceted assessment of the water resources (i.e. surface water and groundwater) of the river basin (i.e. its surface water catchment area) as a whole; and the presentation of conclusions drawn from all of the above.
Within the Tibetan Plateau, the Yellow River valley floor is at 4800-3700 mASL. The Yinchuan and Hubao Plains (the main parts of the Loess Plateau) are at 1200-1100 mASL. The Taiyuan and Guangzhong basins (incised into the Loess Plateau) are 830-735 mASL and 800-320 mASL respectively. The lower reaches of the Yellow River are below 100 mASL; and the river delta below 15mASL.
Because of this large change in elevation over its vast length, the Yellow River basin encompasses a wide range of vegetation types and climatic zones. However, most of the basin – below approximately 3000 mASL – has been classified as having a mid-temperate to warm-temperate climate; but is bounded by the aridity of Inner Mongolia to the north; and the humidity of the Yangtze basin to the south. The Yellow River basin has an average annual precipitation of 479 mm; the distribution of which is very uneven in both space and time. Between 58% and 77% of all rainfall occurs between June and September.
With reference to WEN et al Figure 3, it may be seen that there is a wide range of total precipitation; with over 1000 mm/yr in areas bordering the Yangtze catchment to the south. However, the majority of the Yellow River Basin (south of 35°N in the west and south of 38°N in the east) receives at least 750 mm/yr.
The average annual runoff into the Yellow River from its catchment area is in excess of 57 billion cubic metres per annum. However, because of its seasonal nature – and as a result of over-abstraction (for industrial and agricultural use) – the lowest reaches of the Yellow River dried up completely in 22 out of 29 years between 1972 and 1999. However, since 1999, better centralised regulation of abstraction may have prevented any drying-up of the river between 2000 and (at least) 2006 (WEN et al.2009: 13).
WEN et al Figure 3.
The silt load of the Yellow River is the highest for any river in the world, but is highly seasonal – with 85% being carried between June and September. As with rainfall, the distribution of this sediment load is therefore uneven in space as well as time; with sediment input being particularly high where rainfall is low and evaporation is high.
Today, the human population living within the catchment is in excess of 110 million, and the area of land under cultivation is in excess of 12 million hectares. With regard to its economic importance to China, the Yellow River basin is home to less than 8% of the total Chinese population but it contains greater than 12% of Chinese land under cultivation. Furthermore, the basin is also the source of greater than 25% of China’s oil and greater than 50% its coal. The Yellow River basin contains 8 provincial capitals and 36 other cities above prefecture level. As a consequence of this activity, the total demand for water supply in 2005 was 46.5 billion cubic metres; with usage being 70% agricultural, 14% industrial, and 6% domestic (WEN et al. 2009: 14).
Chinese Ministry of Water Resources data (circa 2005) suggest that there was a 10% reduction in total water supply volume between 1998 and 2005; which may be due to climate change. This is giving cause for concern because any significant increase in demand will not be sustainable (WEN et al. 2009: 15-16).
As with all other countries in the world, China has found it very hard to achieve continuous economic development without causing ongoing environmental degradation. This subject is addressed in detail in the Overall Resource Assessment towards the end of this essay.
ZHANG et al Figure 1 (below) presents a simplified geology map of the Yellow River Basin. The Yellow River basin contains a relatively complete set of geological strata ranging from the Archaean to the Cenozoic in age (i.e. from greater than 2500 to less than 65 million years old). The former are mainly represented coarse-grained metamorphic rock (gneiss) generally exposed at the margins of the river basin (i.e. at altitudes in excess of 2500mASL), whereas the latter form the surface of much of both the Loess Plateau and the North China Plain; with a wide variety of water-bearing lithologies present (including aeolian and alluvial deposits). In between these two, there are generally very significant thicknesses of both Palaeozoic and Mesozoic strata; with a variety of lithologies present, although limestone (both karstic and non-karstic) is the most regionally-important aquifer type (ZHANG et al. 2009: 19-21).
ZHANG et al Figure 1.
As described above, tomorrow I will look in detail at the hydrogeology (i.e. aquifers, groundwater chemistry, circulation, and the balance between supply and demand [such as it may be]) within each of the three main geographic areas making up the surface water catchment.
In view of various unbelievably long and incoherent comments made by someone called jdouglashuahin on Climate Denial Crock of the Week (this and this being just the tips of a couple of very large icebergs), I am going to devote the whole of this week to the subject of China.
My Dad was born in China and, despite being locked up in Japanese internment camps for most of WW2, I think one of the most enjoyable trips in his final years was unquestionably that he made to China when he was nearly 80. Sadly, I have never been; nor am I now ever likely to visit it (far too self-indulgent even if I had a job and/or the money). However, having been brought-up in the UK but taught to use chopsticks almost before I could control a knife and fork properly, I have always taken a keen interest in chinese food, culture and people. I was therefore delighted, last year, to find that one of the optional modules for my MA was Environmental Policy and Practice in China and India. I did not hesitate. [N.B. People like John Douglas Swallow should note the use of italics here to identify this as the name of a course module; not an indication that I ever travelled to China]
Therefore, in the remaining four days of this week, I will post the 5000-word essay I wrote on the subject of the water resources (i.e. surface water and groundwater) in the Yellow River Basin of Northern China. The source of the Yellow River is in the Tibetan Plateau and as such this seventh-longest river in the world passes through just about every climatic zone the planet has to offer; is regarded as the birthplace of Chinese civilisation; and is only now surpassed by the Yangtze River in terms of its industrial importance to China. However, by way of setting the scene for what is to come, I would recommend that people read (or if necessary re-read) a brief item I posted about a special report presented by Justin Rowlatt (first broadcast on the BBC News Channel about a year ago) between Christmas and New Year last year.
Justin Rowlatt is an experienced BBC journalist who first came to my attention when he agreed to allow his entire family to be used in a year-long experiment to see how small a carbon footprint they could have (by selling the family car etc). Building on the success of this experiment, his alter-ego “Ethical Man” embarked on a trip across the USA to explore just how easy (or hard) it would be to roll-out low-carbon lifestyles in a car-obsessed, consumption-oriented country. As well as producing a series of programmes; he wrote about his experiences in a blog. So it was that he came to be in China last year to investigate just how worried the Chinese are about climate change; just how much they are doing to minimise the inevitable impact of such a populous – and rapidly-developing country (by investing heavily in renewable energy technology); and the logistical limitations that growth imposes (including the fact that China is likely to continue burning coal for several decades).
Unfortunately, the BBC’s Our World production entitled ‘China’s Green Revolution’ does not appear to be on You Tube, but there are numerous other programmes and/or news items that are, which cover similar territory. For example, here is a brief item produced by the World Bank:
So, China may well be intent on an entirely selfish programme of seeking to maximise the economic benefit it can acrue for itself by selling renewable energy technology to the rest of the world but, this is not the whole story. Therefore, I hope you will stay with me this week as I look in detail at the challenges China faces in seeking to tackle its own pollution and feed and water its own population: These are all problems that climate change is only going to make harder to solve, which is why the Communist Party of China is so worried about climate change (even if the Tea Party is not).
I am interrupting my blogging holiday to publish a couple of links to a thought-provoking items of Christmas television (one today and one tomorrow). First up, an item re-broadcast on the BBC News Channel on Monday: First broadcast in June 2011, it features Justin Rowlatt (who attempted to live a fossil fuel free existence for a year in 2006 as the BBC’s Ethical Man) visiting China to see how it intends to become the world’s first green superpower.
In this 22-minute programme, Justin reviews the content of China’s latest 5 year plan, which acknowledges that climate change arises out of development and therefore must be solved along with development see here for link). However, although China has set itself challenging targets for reducing the carbon intensity of its emissions (CO2/GDP), it has no plans to reduce its emissions or to stop burning coal in anything less than 20 years.
Such plans will therefore not impress James Hansen or the International Energy Agency. However, China must be given credit for acknowledging that climate change represents an existential threat to its own survival; and therefore deciding to take action: It is very impressive to see how the Chinese see investment in renewable energy as a self-help exercise; and a business opportunity.
It must therefore be hoped that, in 2012, the rest of the World will follow their lead. At very least – and despite its ongoing emissions – we should stop using China as an excuse for our own refusal to accept that urgent action must now be taken by everybody…
My second item (and definitely my final thought for the year) will be posted tomorrow.