Since our last update, David and Janet Carle have followed the 38th parallel across China, investigating water-related environmental and cultural connections. First, they visited the city of Yinchuan, near the Yellow River just south of Inner Mongolia. From there, they traveled to Shapatou National Nature Reserve, a major crossing on the Silk Road. Then, they made their way to the city of Lanzhou, where they met with the local NGO Green Camel Bell, which focuses on sustainable agriculture, environmental education, and community development. Finally, they landed in Xining, the home of China’s largest lake, Qinghai.

Read on to hear more about their adventures, and follow the links to their blog, Parallel Universe 38° North: The Water Line. The Carles’ book The 38th Parallel: A Water Line Around the World will be published by UC Press in Fall 2012.

Qinghai, Blue Lake of the Tibetan Plateau

Prayer flagsThe city of Xining is the home of the Qinghai Salt Lake Institute and gateway to China’s largest lake—Qinghai. Professor Fafu Li welcomed us to the Institute and we met with several scientists and graduate students interested in hearing about Mono Lake. Fafu led us on a 2 day visit to Qinghai, which is on the northeast corner of the Tibetian Plateau, 10,000 feet above sea level. Its water is less salty than the ocean, at 14 g/l, but is alkaline with a pH of 9.2 (Mono Lake is pH 10). Chloride, sodium and sulphates are the dominant ions. Qinghai is a huge inland sea, 5 times bigger than Mono at about 40 x 60 miles (4,437 square kilometers). The lake supports plankton, diatoms, algae and one kind of fish—the endemic Scale-less Carp. The water tastes slightly bitter, and we were pleased to see familiar suds forming along the shore.

WaterwheelUp the Yellow River to Lanzhou’s Green Camel Bell

The City of Lanzhou is long and narrow, snaking along the Yellow River for 15 miles where it flows between mountains. Here we met Liping Ran of the NGO Green Camel Bell, whose mission is “green mountains, clear water, blue sky, man and nature in harmony.” The camel is an animal well-adapted to its environment, the bell is for good fortune and green is for a sustainable future. The NGO was founded by Zhaozhong, a young physicist who received a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment” award in 2009.

MarshShapatou: Yellow River Oasis on the Silk Road

Traveling toward Shapatou National Nature Reserve, we came upon a viewing tower for tourists being construct on the bank of the Yellow River– at exactly 38 00’N! Shapatou was a major crossing on the Silk Road, where Tengger Desert sand dunes meet the Yellow River. A section of the Great Wall rises up east of the river, crumbling but still impressive. Ancient travelers crossed the river on rafts made of inflated sheepskins, which are still used to give rides to the tourists.

Helan Mountain ParkNational Parks of Yinchuan: Playgrounds or Preserves?

The city of Yinchuan (38 30’N; 106 20’E) sits near the Yellow River, in the shadow of the Helan Mountains just south of Inner Mongolia.  We visited several national parks in the area including Sand Lake, known for its birdlife.  A huge entrance arch in the shape of a crane greeted us, along with a bank of fee collection stations.  One must pay the entry fee, then also buy a boat ride, the only way to really see the lake.  Dave, being a senior, got to go in for free to scope out the boat docks.  We decided to enjoy the birds outside in the fish rearing ponds instead: Grey Heron, River Lapwing, Great Crested Grebe, Grey headed Lapwing and White Wagtail.