Dams and Reservoirs: Yangtze - 1800 - 2010

Dams and Reservoirs: Yangtze - 1800 - 2010 thumbnail


Humans have manipulated rivers for thousands of years, but over the last 200 years dams on rivers have become rampant. Reservoirs and dams are constructed for water storage, to reduce the risk of river flooding, and for the generation of power. They are one of the major footprints of humans on Earth and change the world's hydrological cycle.

This dataset illustrates the construction of dams in China's Yangtze River Basin from 1800-2010. We display all dams listed in the Global Reservoir and Dam Database (GRanD). All dams that have a reservoir with a storage capacity of more than 0.1 cubic kilometers are included, and many smaller dams were added where data were available.

The red dots indicate the newly built dams and reservoirs each year, and the yellow dots represent the dams already in place. Grey dots indicate dams being built along other rivers worldwide.

The dams and reservoirs do not only store water, they also trap the incoming sediment that the river transports. Consequently, much less sand and clay travels to the coast, where it would normally be depositing in the delta region. The reduced sediment load of major rivers has influenced the vulnerability of many deltas worldwide.

The Yangtze River Basin has experienced significant development from the 1950s-present. It currently has 50,000 reservoirs of various sizes. The biggest dam in this basin is the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, which was completed in 2003 and is one of the world's largest hydroelectricity plants. The Yangtze River is largest river in China, and nearly 500 million people reside in its watershed. Approximately 20 more dams are scheduled to be constructed in Yangtze River Basin by 2015.

Educational materials have been developed for the global dams dataset, including a few PowerPoint slides, that can be used on a supplementary screen while viewing the dataset on Science On a Sphere®. Also, a discussion-based lesson plan can be used to facilitate student learning about the economics and ecology of dams.

This dataset was made possible by Community Surfaces Dynamic Modeling Systems (CSDMS). The worldwide dams dataset can be viewed here as well as the United States dams only here.

References: Fuggle, R., and Smith, W., 2000. Large Dams in Water and Energy Resource Development in the People's Republic of China (PRC). Country review paper prepared as an input to the World Commission on Dams, Cape Town. World Commission on Dams.

Lehner, B., C. Reidy Liermann, C. Revenga, C. Vörösmart, B. Fekete, P. Crouzet, P. Döll, M. Endejan, K. Frenken, J. Magome, C. Nilsson, J.C. Robertson, R. Rodel, N. Sindorf, and D. Wisser. 2011. High-Resolution Mapping of the World's Reservoirs and Dams for Sustainable River-Flow Management. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9:494-502. DOI: 10.1890/100125.

Yang, S.L., Zhang, J., Dai, S.B., Li, M., and Xu, X.J., 2007. Effect of deposition and erosion within the main river channel and large lakes on sediment delivery to the estuary of the Yangtze River, Journal of Geophysical Research, 112, F02005, doi:10.1029/2006JF000484

Notable Features

  • The majority of China's dams are in the Yangtze River Basin.
  • Over half of the world's largest reservoirs have been constructed in China since the 1950s.
  • Most of China's dams are used for hydroelectricity.

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