As water levels along the Yangtze River retreat amid China’s driest summer in six decades, historic evidence of an ancient wisdom tradition has emerged from the depths of the normally mighty river in the form a trio of Buddhist statues, believed to date to some 600 years ago.
The three statues, the largest of which depicts a monk seated upon a lotus platform, surfaced near the southern city of Chongqing. The sculptures are carved into a prominent rock outcrop that sits atop Foyeliang Island Reef, preliminarily dated to the Ming and Qing dynasties, according to a report by the Reuters news agency.
The Yangtze, Asia’s longest river and the third-longest in the world, is reported to be at its lowest level for this time of year since records began in 1865. Entire sections and dozens of tributaries have dried up, closing off some essential shipping routes completely. The Yangtze, a source of drinking water for more than 400 million Chinese people, is a major driver for the country’s economy and a key link in China’s supply chain with the world.
The ongoing heatwave and accompanying drought in southern regions of China has also left the country’s two largest freshwater lakes at their lowest since records began. Water in the biggest lake, Poyang, is reportedly down by 75 per cent, the lowest level since 1951.
According to China’s state-owned broadcaster CCTV, at least 66 rivers across 34 counties in Chongqing Municipality have dried up, impacting hydropower generation, halting commercial shipping, and disrupting industrial and agricultural activity. Rainfall in the Yangtze basin has been around 45 per cent lower than normal since July, and official forecasts indicate that this summer’s scorching temperatures are unlikely to ease for at least another week. On Saturday, the national weather bureau issued a red heatwave warning—the highest in a three-tier alert scale—for southern China, its ninth consecutive warning amid 31 days in a row of high-temperature alerts.
“Over the past month, 4.5 million square kilometers [representing about half of China’s total land mass] experienced temperatures of 35ºC or more,” the National Meteorological Center reported late last week. “Over 200 national monitoring stations have observed record highs, with temperatures reaching 45ºC in Beipei, Chongqing,” (South China Morning Post)
The National Meteorological Center has forecast that the heatwave will last until at least 25 August and could run well into September.
China’s crisis has been echoed around the world, with a surge of record-breaking temperatures depleting water stocks and, at the same time, laying bare lost relics of the past as water levels recede.
Spain’s worst drought in decades, which has seen reservoirs shrink, has also been marked by reappearance of a prehistoric circle of megaliths known as the Dolmen of Guadalperal that is believed to date to 5000 BCE.
“It’s a surprise, it’s a rare opportunity to be able to access it,” said archaeologist Enrique Cedillo of Madrid’s Complutense University of the site that has been dubbed the “Spanish Stonehenge.” (CNN)
Meanwhile, the second-longest river in Europe, the Danube, has dried up sufficiently to reveal the shattered hulls of more than 20 German warships sunk during the Second World War near the Serbian port town of Prahovo. Many of the vessels still contain large quantities of ammunition and explosives.
“The German flotilla has left behind a big ecological disaster that threatens us people of Prahovo,” 74-year-old local resident and war historian Velimir Trajilovic was quoted as saying. (ABC News)
However, climate experts continue to repeat warnings that such extreme weather patterns are likely to become the new global norm as the climate crisis worsens and the planet’s temperatures continue to rise.
Bernice Lee, chair of the advisory board at the London-based Chatham House Sustainability Accelerator, a think-tank working for a sustainable future, cautions that many societies and governments around the world remain either unprepared or underprepared for the repercussions of global warming: “Looking to the future, as the frequency of extreme weather events looks set to grow, the future could be even more bleak.” (The Guardian)
Receding water levels of China’s Yangtze reveal ancient Buddhist statues (Reuters)
Yangtze shrinks as China’s drought disrupts industry (AP)
China drought causes Yangtze river to dry up, sparking shortage of hydropower (The Guardian)
China heatwave and drought to continue, with power supply hit, shipping halted and crops at risk (South China Morning Post)
‘Spanish Stonehenge’ emerges from drought-hit dam (CNN)
Europe’s worst drought in years exposes explosives-laden, World War II Nazi shipwrecks in Danube River (ABC News)
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