In the early morning of October 16, the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) Lop Nur scientific expedition team left Ruoqiang County and headed to the heart of Lop Nur, more than 230 kilometers northeast, which is the famous “Ear of the Earth” clearly visible on the satellite map. It is the lowest place in the depression of Lop Nur, and it is also the tail basin where many inland rivers of Lop Nur poured into it.
The scientific expedition team first proceeded eastward along National Highway 315, and then turned to a northeast road. From the map, the two sides leading to the core area of Lop Nur are full of gray, and they are all boundless Gobi. In order to ensure supplies, the scientific expedition team prepared sufficient water and solid food in advance. The plan was to arrive at Luozhong Town, the core of Lop Nur that evening.
Crossing Lop Nur is also an adventure for the birds
Due to the long distance, it is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the fieldwork and the schedule of the itinerary. The scientific expedition team conducted sample surveys in the Lop Nur area according to different habitats. From a historical point of view, the large areas that the scientific expedition team entered were once the areas where the lakes of Lop Nur were distributed. After going through the vicissitudes of life, when today’s scientific expedition team investigated this area, no drop of water could be seen on the dry land, and all they could see was the desolate and silent Gobi desert and sedimentary salt rocks, and even the sky where white clouds stopped looks lonely.
In such a habitat, the aquatic organisms group abandoned its plan to conduct surveys and sampling, and the plant group was able to conduct sampling surveys on the sparse tamarix chinensis communities distributed on sandbags when entering the periphery of Lop Nur. Going deeper into the lake, the vegetation on the surface disappeared completely, just big and small stones. The same was for the wildlife group. When entering the periphery of Lop Nur, traces of hares can be found in the tamarix chinensis bushes, and a sparrow flying low and struggling through the desert was recorded, and even a Red-flanked Bluetail was observed. But once entered the endless salt-rock crust distribution area, even the birds disappeared completely.
At the third investigation site along the way, when the scientific expedition team completed the mission and was about to leave, the wildlife team accidentally discovered an adult Emberiza pusilla hiding under the off-road vehicle, seemingly afraid of light. The scientific expedition team was worried that the cars coming and going on the highway would run over it, and they drove it away, it would not leave. Later, the scientific expedition team took it off the road and found the bird in a trance. After putting it down, it stumbled and ran back onto the road. “Emberiza pusilla usually lives in farmland habitats, where there is grass and water, why does it appear here?” The wildlife team judged that the bird was very abnormal and basically could not survive without water and food.
CBCGDF Biodiversity Scientific Expedition Team discovered the secret buried under the hard salt shell
Like the other groups, the soil and microorganism group was able to obtain samples from the Gobi Desert with a spade when traveling from the periphery to the depths of Lop Nur. However, once entered the sedimentary area of the lake bottom formed by the salt rock, even using a harder sampling tool, a pick, would not help. According to the soil and microorganism group’s sampling standards, the sampling area with less human interference is more ideal. In addition, they usually take four levels of soil samples at one sample spot. For example, 0-20 cm, 20-40 cm, 40-60 cm, and 60-100 cm below the surface. A team member Wang said: “Take samples of different soil layers, mainly to see the changes in soil composition, microbial species and quantity.”
When approaching the sampling spot of Lop Nur’s famous “Ear of the Earth” earlobe, the ground is not only barren, but also pitted and hard as iron, covered with endless salt-rock crusts. The scientific expedition team members wore heavy field boots and squeaked on the ground without seeing anything on the ground being crushed, as if they were walking on the surface of Mars. The most shocking thing is that there are countless hard pieces standing on the bottom of the dry lake, like sharp blades and halberds left behind after a whirlwind has passed. The head of the scientific expedition team, Dr. Lu, believed that this was caused by the lake drying up so fast that it quickly solidified and formed. There, the soil and microorganism group encountered a problem. Before, they could also take samples from cracks in the ground. However, when they got there, they switched to a stronger cross draft, smashed it down hard, and made metal-like crisp sounds. And, when it fell 20 cm below the surface, it was still a solid salt crust. The soil and microorganism group, which never returned empty-handed, had to give up sampling at that spot.
But in the meantime, the effort paid off. As the scientific expedition team moved on to the central part of “Ear of the Earth”, a large forklift was digging a ditch by the roadside and just left. The soil and microorganism group hurriedly descended into the ditch and were immediately surprised: it turned out that a large forklift easily smashed the ground and dug all the way down. The soil was distributed in a section about 1.5 meters left the three-dimensional structure at a glance after the excavator worked.
After measurement, the thickness of the crust of the salt rock has reached about 50 cm. Under the salt crust, there is a soil layer of more than 90 cm. The soil is relatively moist, while the bottom of the trench is blue-green transparent water and thick white crystals of salt. Such a perfect profile is too rare. The group hurried down to work in the ditch. In that sampling spot, the group obtained three samples from each of the four working layers and added soil samples at 1.5 meters. The person in charge of the soil and microorganism group said: “It’s too precious, we have to take as much as possible, so that we can fully analyze it later.”
Later, before arriving at Luozhong Town, another sampling spot was also found in the salt trench dug by the bulldozer. The salt ditch was filled with turquoise and transparent brine and thick salt deposits. What’s interesting is that on both sides of some dug trenches, groundwater still emerges from the bottom of the trenches. As the water rises, it is evaporated and crystallized at the same time, eventually forming towers in the brine pond. This peculiar landscape is somewhat similar to the landform features of karst caves. In some places, there are thick layers of salt rocks 10 cm below the surface. Lop Nur, as a famous place where water and salt accumulate, is obvious here. It is precisely because of this that a huge potash factory has been built in the core area of Lop Nur today, and a railway station has been built for this purpose to produce and transport potash for years.
Near the evening, the night began to fill this vast and mysterious place. The scientific expedition team decided to stop work and rushed to Lop Nur Town (also known as Luozhong Town), the only settlement in the core area of Lop Nur.
Original Chinese article:
By / Maggie