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Salt Fields in Former “Wandering” Lake Lop Nur, China – May 13th, 2009

40.2N 90.6E

May 13th, 2009 Category: Climate Change, Image of the day

Lake Lop Nur, China - May 1st, 2009

Lake Lop Nur, China - May 1st, 2009

ASAR image of Lop Nur - May 11th, 2009

ASAR image of Lop Nur - May 11th, 2009

This area between the Taklamakan (left) and Kuruktag (right) deserts in China, was once the location of Lake Lop Nur.

Now, all that remains of this former saline lake is a salt-encrusted lake bed, visible as a curved indentation in the center of the main image.

Lop Nur earned the nickname of “The Wandering Lake” as it used to change greatly in size and position, depending on the balance between rainfall water yield and evaporation. In the 1950s, the lake occupied roughly 2,000 square km (770 square miles).

Salt fields - MERIS image

Salt fields - MERIS image

However, the lake ceased to exist by about 1970, due to climate change and human exploitation of water resources for agriculture, particularly after irrigation works and reservoirs were completed on the middle reaches of the Tarim River, one of its former tributaries.

Salt fields - ASAR image

Salt fields - ASAR image

The close-ups focus on a salt field and salt refining facility constructed in the lake bed in 2002. The ASAR image is sharper as it is magnified by a factor of three, while the color MERIS image by a factor of five.

The bluish color of the salt fields in the MERIS image indicates the presence of water. As many salt rocks remain in the dried-up lake, salt could be refined by the wet-mining (dissolving mining) or gushing-well methods.

Between 1964 and 1996, the area was also used as a nuclear test site, with 45 underground and atmospheric nuclear tests conducted in that period. The first Chinese nuclear bomb test, codenamed “596”, was carried out at Lop Nur in 1964. The first Chinese thermonuclear detonation was performed there on December 27, 1968.

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