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Water Levels in China’s Longest River Plummet Amid Record Heat, Authorities Deploy Weather Modification Operations

Published: August 15, 2022
The intersectional zone of Yangtze river and Jialing river has different colors on 30th June, 2021 in Chongqing,China. Water levels in the Yangtze river are plummeting due to an extended heat wave that is baking southern China. (Image: TPG/Getty Images)

The water level of China’s longest river, the Yangtze, which nourishes numerous cities including Shanghai, is plummeting amidst a prolonged heatwave that is inducing drought conditions across southern China, threatening crops and prompting the authorities to deploy weather-modifying technologies. 

The river’s middle and lower reaches have had to contend with temperatures in excess of 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for the past several weeks prompting authorities to deploy pumps and cloud-seeding rockets in an attempt to address the plunging water levels. 

The extreme heat is expected to persist for at least another two weeks “making this heatwave the longest sustained period of extreme temperatures since records began in 1961 according to experts with China’s National Climate Center,” Reuters reported. 

Experts are blaming climate change-induced variations in the western Pacific subtropical high for the conditions. The weather pattern is a major determinant of summer weather throughout east Asia.

The low water levels are placing the autumn harvest under threat prompting the agriculture ministry to deploy 25 teams to the hardest hit regions to try to protect the crops, the Shanghai government’s Guangming Daily newspaper reported. 

In the Yangtze river drainage area, rainfall levels dropped by approximately 30 percent in July and overall is around 60 percent lower than normal for August. According to the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission, tributary rivers that feed the Yangtze are “significantly lower” than historical levels. 

Poyang lake, located in China’s Jiangxi Province, that plays an important role in regulating summer water flow in the Yangtze, has shrunk to levels typically seen during the winter dry months following a 50 percent decline in rainfall in July.  

According to local media, villages that rely on the lake for agriculture have deployed pumps to irrigate rice fields while other regions have launched weather modification operations. 

Under normal circumstances, water is released from the Three Gorges reservoir to relieve drought on the Yangtze; however, according to official data, downstream outflows are half the level that they were a year ago. 


China’s weather modification program

In late 2020 Chinese authorities announced a rapid expansion of its weather modification program to cover an area more than one and a half times larger than India, The Guardian reported at the time. 

China employs at least 35,000 people to operate the world’s largest cloud-seeding operation.

For at least six decades, the communist nation has employed military aircraft and anti-aircraft guns to lace clouds with silver iodide or liquid nitrogen to thicken water droplets so that they fall as either rain or snow. Chinese authorities want to extend the practice to cover at least 2.1m sq miles (5.5m sq km) of land by 2025.

The technology has also been used to clear skies ahead of major events including the 2008 Olympics and the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). 

There are fears that China’s weather modification operations could affect regional weather patterns to the detriment of neighboring countries. 

Following the announcement of China’s expansion of its weather modification program, Dhanasree Jayaram of the Centre for Climate Studies at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, told the Eurasian Times, “The emergence of ambitious geoengineering technologies could exacerbate tensions and even hostility between nations such as India and China. Without regulation, one country’s efforts could affect other countries.”

Despite international concerns, China continues to make advances in its weather modification technology. 

In August this year, China reportedly developed a new drone system for weather modification capable of implementing a remote-sensing detection of clouds, rain, wind, and aerosols in the atmosphere.  

The drone completed its 75-minute maiden flight in early August from an airport in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province.

According to the drones developers, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the drone has “laser-microwave dual detection, active/passive joint detection, and remote-sensing in-situ detection” capabilities, The Peninsula reported. 

The drone system is also expected to be used to contribute to disaster reduction and ecological protection.