Lop Nor – Former Wandering Lake

Lop Nor is an earlier saline lake located in northwestern part of China. At present, this lake is a lake bed which is salt encrusted. It is situated in Tarim Basin in eastern part of Takla Makan Desert which is in Ugyur autonomous area in Xinjiang. The region near the Lop Nor is a very barren spot. Lop Nor is also known by the names, Lop Nur, Lo-pu P’o, Luobupo and more. Earlier in fifties, the lake covered approximately an area of two thousand square kilometers. But, it ceased to have an existence by seventies after the completion of irrigation works as well as reservoirs in centre part reaching Tarim River, a former tributary.

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Salt ridges

As per the research reports of scientific teams of China, during early eighties, by conducting a carbon 14 dating experiment, it was found that there was existence of a lake with changing dimensions in this region. It existed for nearly twenty thousand years even if there were great changes in the regional climatic conditions in narrow domain from arid type to highly arid one. After the disappearance of water in the lake, the area near to Lop Nur underwent much salt encrustation as well as wind erosion. The crust of salt formed currently covers an area of twenty one thousand square kilometers. There are several salt ridges which are shaped irregularly. They are called yardang and covers approximately one thousand two hundred square miles.

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Epidemic disaster

The region near Lop Nur is not yet inhibited permanently since the year 1920, when the bands of Uighur fled fully in basin after an attack of plague killing lot of people. The animals found in this area include some wild Bactrian camels. From mid sixties to late nineties, the Lop Nur region was intermittently utilized as regular test site for atmospheric as well as underground nuclear explosions of China. In mid nineties, potash was discovered here and so this area is a spot of mining operation on large scale too. The term “nur” in name of Lake is derived from ‘nuur’, a Mongolian word that means lake.

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This dried up lake is situated right between Kumtag and Taklamakan deserts. This lake is located administratively in the Lop Nur town in Ruoqiang County that is a part of Bayinggolin Mongol autonomous prefecture. Hydrologically, this lake is endorheic which means it has no outlet and it is in fact land bound too. The cause of drying up of Lop Nur Lake is the dam construction that blocked the water flow feeding into the entire system of lake. This led to just formation of few tiny marshes and seasonal lakes there. Salt crust formed in this dried up basin has a thickness ranging from one to thirty centimeters.

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Travel Tips

There is a highway that starts from Hami to Lake Lop Nur. It is live since 2006. Along same route, there is Hami Lop Nur railway that runs more than three hundred seventy kilometers north to Hami. It is open since 2012 to have freight operation. 

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