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article imageMoving mountains wrecking havoc on environment in China

By Karen Graham     Jun 9, 2014 in Environment
As the old saying goes, "Where there's a will, there's a way." And this seems to be the tactic being used by one of China's biggest construction companies in their plan to level 700 mountains in preparation for the building of a new city.
China's cities are becoming overcrowded, and expansion for many of the larger cities has reached its limits. To accommodate the increasing number of people choosing to live in an urban setting, China has taken on the task of creating a level area for building by bulldozing the surrounding mountains, then moving the soil to fill in valleys.
By doing so, scientists at Chang'an University in China are warning that with several dozen mountains already leveled, there is now evidence of air and water pollution, soil erosion and flooding. Researchers say this activity is happening at an "unprecedented rate," as reported in the Journal Nature.
According to the report, one-fifth of the Chinese population lives in mountainous areas, but there is a need for cities. In Lanzhou, China, developers are spending more than $2.2 billion to create a metropolis on 500 sq. miles of flat land 50 miles outside the city. To do this, they are leveling 700 mountains and hauling the soil by dump truck to fill in a valley in what is being called The Lanzhou New Area.
The project is being called the "largest mountain-moving project" in China's history and is the country's fifth "state-level development zone," as well as the first in China's fast-developing interior, according to state media reports. Others include Shanghai's Pudong and Tianjin's Binhai, only half finished, but soon to be a 120-building replica of Manhattan, as well as Chongqing, Shiyan, Yichang and Yan'an, where dozens of hilltops have been levelled.
Lanzhou is the provincial capital of Gansu province in North-Western China. According to the state-run China Daily, The Lanzhou New Area project should increase the areas gross domestic product to $27 billion by 2030. Approval for the project was given in August of 2013, and work began in October.
Prof Peiyue Li, from Chang'an University's School of Environmental Science and Engineering, said: "Because there have been no land creation projects like this before in the world, there are no guidelines."
Prof Li explained, "Mountainous cities such as Yan'an are mostly located in relatively flat valleys. The valleys are narrow and limit the development of the cities - and huge population density is also a factor."
Removing mountaintops is not a new idea. It has been done in the United States by the mining industry, but never on the scale being attempted in China. Professor Li points out the dangers in the huge amounts of dust particles being thrown into the air along with waterways becoming polluted from landslides and flooding. Besides these environmental dangers, the dangers also exist for animal and plant life.
A picture of a mountaintop removal site done by coal mining industry.
Photo taken: Dec. 2  2007.
A picture of a mountaintop removal site done by coal mining industry. Photo taken: Dec. 2, 2007.
JW Randolph - Friend's work
The biggest concern for the researchers is the instability of the newly created land. Prof Li explained: "The most concerning issue is the safety of constructing cities on the newly created land." The land being created in Lanzhou is made up of dense windblown silt. Because creating land in this manner is relatively new, there is no precedence for how long to wait before it would be safe to build.
"Such soft soils can subside when wet, causing structural collapse and land subsidence. Building on such soils is quite dangerous and it would take a very long time for the ground base to become stable."
According to Prof Brian McGlynn, from Duke University, he told BBC Radio 4's Inside Science programme, "In the US and China, we're moving ahead without much insight into what the result will be, especially when it comes to the water, the hydrology, the water quality implications." McGlynn also mentioned that with changing the flow of water, and what it comes into contact with, we are stepping into unknown territory. "We don't have any experience with manipulations on this scale: It's a large experiment."
Palm Islands in Dubai  United Arab Emirates - view from plane
Photo taken: June 24  2005.
Palm Islands in Dubai, United Arab Emirates - view from plane Photo taken: June 24, 2005.
Aerial photographs of the United Arab Emirates
Dr Jan Zalasiewicz, from the University of Leicester, agrees with Professor McGlynn that we are in new territory. "There are other projects as well, like the Palm Island in Dubai, which is moving billions of tonnes of materials in one place to another to create a new landscape. And while humans have been doing that on a small to moderate scale for quite a long time, this is now exceeding the state of natural processes."
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