Where to get water for the great dragon

In search of new sources of fresh water in the southwest of China cavers descend deep into the earth. Here, in the realm of the world’s greatest caves, stalactites and stalagmites, they risked their lives to be mapped underground rivers.

Groundwater flows in southern China may quench the thirst of millions of people during the drought. But to trace their way through karst formations — not an easy task. After heavy rains the water is rapidly arrives. A dry tunnel cave explorers have to overcome crawl, centimeter by centimeter.

Water from the skyscrapers Professor Yuan Guilin Daosyan trying to resolve the issue, on which depends the future of the country. His office with mountains of books and maps looks like a mini-replica of the world famous karst landscape, long ago became the «calling card» of the region in the south of China. Just a few hundred meters away towering verdant limestone pillars, pyramids and towers, as if carved out of emeralds.

Professor speaks slowly, gesticulating with trembling hands. But in his 79 years, he has no intention to retire. First you have to perform important tasks of the Institute of Geology of karst of China — find new sources of natural resources, which is worth its weight in gold. Every year it is less. A need for more.

Yuan Daosyan engaged in the exploration of groundwater.

Before the People’s Republic of China is a complex problem: water reserves in the country less than in the US, and the population — four times as much. In reserves of fresh water per capita, China — one of the world’s poorest countries. Due to the growth of industry demand for water is growing. In the arid north is a large-scale desertification. In the south during the monsoon rains it lasts only a few months. Up to 90 percent of the contaminated groundwater in the urban unfit for consumption. In rural areas, 300 million people do not have access to clean drinking water. Deficiency of it becomes a real threat to social stability.

Professor Yuan engaged in the exploration of reserves of «blue gold» from the late 1950s. He studies the hydrological properties of the soil all the way from Tibet to the east coast of China. But best of all is oriented to the south-west of the country — in the vast region, covering Yunnan, Guizhou and Chongqing administrative district with Guangxi, where is the hometown of professors, Guilin. The soil here consists almost entirely of readily soluble in water, pitted cracked deposits of limestone and dolomite. Geologists call this a relief, «karst».

It is the largest karst area in the world. Unique «park» fantastic geological formations: the stone «forest» with a maze of limestone pillars, jagged ridges of rock bridges, grottoes and caves. In 2007, UNESCO included the South China Karst in the World Heritage List. That’s only land suitable for agriculture, are very few. In the rainy season, all the water to the last drop seeps through porous rocks in the thickness of the rocks.

It is home to more than 100 million people. For six months they suffer from an excess of water and half a year — from its lack. In the rainy monsoon floods threaten them. And from September to May — the drought. In 2012, Rain was not here more than 100 days. And only one of Yunnan Province died from a lack of moisture in the crop area of ​​20 million hectares.

«The water is there — says Professor Yuan. — But it lies deep underground. «

There could be to drill artesian wells, build water and reservoirs. But for this you just look under the ground. And follow the direction of the underground rivers. The elderly professor alone can not cope with this. That’s why he has entrusted the task of American student Erin Lynch. She — his «eyes» and «hands».

In the pitch darkness Erin Lynch climbing the sheer wall of the precipice. Her boots caked with mud. The foot slips off the ledge, but she manages to keep his balance. Snapping a safety carbine, it gives a sign to follow her and to use caution. One after another, the researchers descend on a rope along the wall, were swinging like a pendulum. One wag — and you pour over ice waterfall spray. Foam sparkles in the light of the helmet-mounted lights. Because of the deafening noise is not heard a word.

For Erin Lynch — this is the usual route. 36-year old American born in Virginia. But science is here — in the underground labyrinth of China. For the third day, she leads a group of four people for confusing the tunnels of the cave San-Van Dong in the midst of a mountainous area in the district of Chongqing, about five hundred kilometers northwest of Guilin. With it — the American caver Annie Leonard and reporters.

The purpose of this underground expedition — mapping of underground rivers. According to experts, under the earth in southwest China takes more than 3,000 rivers. Only a few of them exceed a length of ten kilometers. But as much as they carry the same amount of water as the Yellow River — the legendary Yellow River.

Unbelievable but true: even the most modern technology can not be determined accurately from the ground circuit waterways. In the darkness of the underground lies the unknown world, inaccessible or satellite scanners or cameras with remote control. Penetrate here can only desperate daredevils, ready to deadly risk.

To conduct measurements of some newly discovered underground galleries can only swim (at the top). Upon returning to base, researchers supported by the hot meal (at the bottom). It’s time to view the entries made during the day. On this basis, Erin Lynch expects to make a map of the cave labyrinth. Using measuring tape, protractor and compass she has recorded more than ten thousand landmarks. The reward for hard work — the opportunity to feel like a pioneer in an unknown mire.V monsoon on rugged gorges Highlands near Wulong rainwater seeps quickly into cracks and hollows, covering the porous karst array. And poured into underground rivers that carry it in Wujiang — a tributary of the Yangtze. And along the way it washes away the rock, expanding and deepening the underground cavities. Cavers from the «Society for the study of caves Hong Meigu» studied for more than 150 kilometers of passages. The length is not yet studied underground labyrinth expectation four times. So far, the most sensational discovery of cave explorers — a huge, full of fog underground cavity called the «Hall of cloud ladder.» According to recent measurements, it is the third-largest cave in the world. It would be entirely gone in the Eiffel Tower. But very soon (by geological standards) under the influence of water erosion of its vaults collapse. And it will turn into a giant sinkhole opened in the center of the cave system. For the sake of their passion for discovery Erin Lynch moved to China, learned the language and quarreled with his parents. The petite energetic American could make a brilliant academic career. 11 years ago, she studied mathematics at the prestigious California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and English Cambridge. Interested in theoretical physics. Then exit from friends in China. And discover the cave.

For her, it was like the opening of a new continent, the study of which is not enough of a lifetime.

In 2001, Erin and his colleagues founded the Society for the Study of the Chinese caves «Hong Meigu» («Red Rose»). And since then chronicles of expeditions. She lives alone in a modest apartment in a dusty provincial town of Wulong, in the heart of South China Karst. With neighbors talking less often than with friends on the Internet. And to pay for housing, works part-time editor of the English-language magazine for caving.

But more often it disappears underground. And is not the first year collaborating with Professor Yuan Daosyanem and other Chinese hydrogeologists. Lynch with cavers from the company «Hong Meigu» collects during raids underground data on the structure and strength of the occurrence of layers of rock, registers large deformation and measures the angle of shear rock layers. But the main thing — the map is not yet studied underground rivers, lakes and tunnels.

The collected information is sent for analysis Daosyanyu Yuan and other Chinese experts. With it, they can calculate at what point of the slope is best to drill water wells. Or to identify potential sources of contamination threatening the underground drinking water reservoirs.

Waterfall along which speleologists descend into the depths, is overthrown in an underground room. Lynch studied it a few years ago and called the «Queen of the Nile.» From here the water flows further south. But where exactly?

Researchers making their way along the narrow, winding tunnel to the last point reached in the previous expedition. The stream meanders on. And disappear into the darkness of the unknown.

Necessary to move the touch. The thought of that before you here untouched by human hands, there is a heady feeling akin to euphoria. Cave explorers called it «a cave fever.» You feel like the first astronaut on the moon.

Ahead — Annie Leonard with a measuring tape in hand. Looking for a suitable location for measurement. Those who follow it, it is necessary to determine the coordinates using a compass and protractor. For a beginner it is not easy. Therefore, the group is moving ahead at a snail’s pace. Underground flow noise so loud that at a distance of less than 20 meters have to talk on the radio. To be safe, every measurement is carried out twice. Error of more than two degrees is unacceptable. Behind Erin Lynch 71 underground expedition. She personally mapped 400 kilometers of tunnels. And all this with the help of an ancient time-consuming technique that remains is the only reliable way of surveying.

It seems that the river flow is accelerated. On the way across the steep ledges. One of them is so high that the cable is required for the descent. But the supply of mountaineering equipment is already used up. There was only one short Repshnur — auxiliary Nylon rope.

«Do you feel a draft?» — Asks Lynch. This is a sure sign that the front of the cave should be even larger.

Overcoming fear, we have to climb down the sheer rock wall followed by Annie Leonard. Four meters beneath your feet bubbling water. The left hand is wrapped for insurance Repshnur. Interestingly, some distance from here to the mouth of the cave? Five kilometers? The rock seems solid enough. And suddenly the stone block that serves as the fulcrum for the right hand broken off.

Caves have a special place in the history and mythology of China. Since time immemorial, they were considered the dwellings of dragons, and the cradle of life. They built the first Buddhist temples and monasteries carved into the rock statues. In the Taoist tradition «Dongtian» («Celestial grottoes») symbolize heaven and serve as sanctuaries for rural communities.

The largest caves were explored, most likely in the fifth century BC. e. — During the reign of the Zhou Dynasty. About five hundred years ago, the famous geographer Xu Syake, engaging in the search for underground sources of water for the first time mapped the more than three hundred entries in a cave in the South China Karst. And earned a reputation as the discoverer of the greatest in the history of imperial China.

Begun great scientist-geographer studies continue to modern Chinese hydrologists led by Professor Yuan Daosyanya in Guilin. The ramifications of the many underground labyrinths in southern China stretch for tens of kilometers. A karst shaft to a depth of a kilometer seem bottomless. For their study necessary to master the technique of climbing. And his masters in China is not enough. Only in the last few years in expeditions Company «Hong Meigu» became involved Chinese students-geologists.

On the way across the huge, permeates the whole mountain karst pits and craters. In the middle of the cave system San-Van Dong — a stream of blinding daylight. It flows from the giant, gaping at the sky cavity diameter of 250 and 300 meters deep, carved into the rock like a giant.

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