Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A High-Altitude Journey Ends in China

This photo shows the grand Qingshui River Bridge, the longest bridge along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

By Aussiegirl

China's high-altitude train to Tibet has just completed its first journey, traveling at dizzying elevations of over 16,000 feet that were sufficient to burst ball point pens and prepared packages of food. As usual, there is much controversy associated with the environmental and social impact of this Chinese megaproject, just as there was with the contruction of the Three Gorges Dam. Typical of a colonial power, the Chinese seek to dilute and eventually eliminate the indigenous culture of Tibet in order to suppress that pesky human desire for freedom and independence. Of course it's all cloaked in the veneer of "progress". Note the Tibetan man who carefully asked what the Dalai Lama thought of this project because he was fearful of searching for the information on the internet.

Here's a site from NOAA that discusses the environmental issues surrounding the melting of permafrost and the associate problems of building on it. According to the article on the Chinese railroad, the melting of the permafrost surrounding the railway has lead to a problem of surface hydrology, leading to muddy and saturated conditions. LIke everything dealing with human ingenuity, there always seems to be a solution. The problem with many of these gargantuan projects that are carried out in communist countries is that they seldom pay any attention to the environmental costs of a solution. Politics is paramount. That's how Stalin managed to dry up the Aral sea, and caused the steppes to blow away with his insane projects. Note that American projects built on permafrost solve the problem of subsidence, saturation and hydrology by methods which prevent damage, both to infrastructure, and to the environment.

The most polluting and environmentally unfriendly regimes in the world have always been communist ones. Keep that in mind next time a Greenie wails about Republicans polluting the environment, while saying nary a peep about the disasters wrought by nations such as China and the Soviet Union.

According to Wikipedia: "Building on permafrost is difficult due to the heat of the building (or pipeline) melting the permafrost and sinking downwards. This sinking problem has three common solutions: using foundations on wood piles, building on a thick gravel pad (usually 1 to 2 meters (about 4 to 5 feet) thick), or using anhydrous ammonia heat pipes. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System uses insulated heat pipes to keep the pipeline from sinking into the permafrost.

"At the Permafrost Research Institute in Yakutsk, it has been found that sinking of large buildings into the frozen earth (known to the Yakuts before Yakutsk was even founded) can be prevented effectively by means of stilts extended down to a depth of about fifteen metres or more. At this depth the temperature does not change with the seasons but remains at about -5°C."

A High-Altitude Journey Ends in China - Examiner.com

A High-Altitude Journey Ends in China
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By ALEXA OLESEN, The Associated Press
Jul 3, 2006 1:29 PM (1 hr 49 mins ago)
Current rank: # 458 of 11,476 articles

LHASA, China - China's new train from Beijing to Tibet arrived in the ancient capital of Lhasa Monday, ending its maiden journey after climbing to elevations so high that ballpoint pens and packaged foods burst.

Some passengers breathed oxygen from tubes - many just out of curiosity - as the pressurized train crossed a 16,640-foot pass in Tibet's Tanggula Mountains, a height the Chinese government says makes the $4.2 billion railway the world's highest.

Girls in track suits and traditional Tibetan robes draped white scarves, a customary greeting, on passengers arriving in Lhasa's new railway station.

The $4.2 billion train is a new tool in China's much-criticized push to bind its booming east to the Himalayan "roof of the world."

Chinese leaders hope greater prosperity will help to still calls by Tibetans and other ethnic minorities for autonomy from the communist Beijing government.

The line has prompted protests by activists who say it will fuel the influx of Chinese migrants to the isolated region, threatening its ecology and diluting its unique Buddhist culture.

One Tibetan passenger asked a Western reporter what the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, thought of the train. The man, who asked not to be identified by name, said that with China's Internet monitoring, it was too dangerous for him to search news Web sites for the information himself.

Tibetan antelope and wild donkeys grazed beneath stunning vistas of snowcapped mountains and deep-blue skies as the train rolled through the treeless, sparsely populated area.

China's government says it is spending $190 million on environmental protection along the Golmud-Lhasa stretch of the railway. But despite promises to minimize pollution, the sides of the line were littered with plastic bags, bottles and cardboard boxes. Large sections of the permanently frozen earth were grassless, puddled and scarred by vehicle tracks.

Damaged permafrost "becomes dark, ugly, muddy water," said Daniel Wong, an engineer based in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen who worked on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, also laid over permafrost.

"The most unfortunate thing is that such damage will spread," he said.

Trains completed shorter trips on the line between Lhasa and Golmud in Qinghai province while passengers on the 16-car train from the Chinese capital were in the midst of their journey.

State media gave heavy coverage to the railway, with newspapers publishing front-page photos of passengers singing and villagers waving to the passing train. The midday news on state TV showed President Hu Jintao congratulating workers who built the line.

Before the last leg of the trip to Lhasa, the train stopped in Golmud early Monday to switch its standard engine for three powerful locomotives required to haul the train at high altitude.

The only signs of human habitation in the arid highlands south of Golmud were occasional small train stations and herders tending yaks.

After the train climbed above 13,000 feet, pens and bags of processed food burst due to the low air pressure. Laptop computers and digital music players failed, because moving parts in their disk drives are cushioned by tiny air bags that break at high altitude.

The railway is projected to help double tourism revenues in Tibet by 2010 and cut transport costs for goods by 75 percent. Until now, goods going to and from Tibet have been trucked over mountain highways that are often blocked by landslides or snow, making trade prohibitively expensive.

The New York-based group Students for a Free Tibet set up a Web site, rejecttherailway.com, urging the public to wear black armbands in protest of the project, which the group says "is a tool Beijing will use to overwhelm (the) Tibetan population."

"We reject the railway just as we reject China's illegitimate rule in Tibet," the site said.

Communist troops marched into Tibet in 1950, and Beijing says the region has been Chinese territory for centuries. But Tibet was effectively independent for much of that time.

The rail line is a decades-old dream for Chinese officials. But work began in earnest only in 2001, after engineers worked out how to stabilize tracks on permafrost.


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