Asia's Longest River, the Yangtze

Show Summary - May 18, 2009

Guest: Art Bernstein

Art Bernstein, MS (Gold Hill, OR), writer and naturalist. "China's Amazing Yangtze River - Longest River in Asia"

Naturalist and author Art Bernstein came by (for the 44th time) to tell Sharon about China's Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia at 3,916 miles, and the world's third longest river after the Nile and Amazon. The Yangtze is the world's busiest waterway. It begins at 16,000 feet in the Kunlun Mountains (part of the Himalayas), in Quinghai Province in Western China, not far from the headwaters of the Yalu and Mekong rivers. The long, narrow Kunlun range reaches a height of 23,000 feet and separates the Tibetan Plateau from the immense Takla Makan Desert.

After flowing for many miles across the Tibetan plateau, the river drops into the Sichuan Basin, a semi-tropical lowland that is home to heavy industry, 87 million people and one of China's four great cuisines (Sichuan, Cantonese, Shandong and Huiyang). The basin has mountains on all sides. East of the basin, the Yangtze knifes through the Yunling Mountains at Three Gorges Dam. Then, after a thousand-mile journey across the Yangtze Plain, with its vast flatlands, lakes, swamps, rice fields, immense cities and 350,000,000 population, the two-mile wide river empties into the East China Sea at a delta just north of Shanghai, China's largest city. The river has 700 major tributaries.

It is assumed that the Yangtze is #2 in volume of water discharged at its mouth, since the Amazon is #1 and the Nile, despite its great length, doesn't carry nearly as much water.

Water quality in the lower Yangtze is poor due to draining many lakes and swamps. It also meanders for its last thousand miles, picking up a huge volume of mud and silt. And it flows through one of the most densely populated and heavily industrialized regions on Earth.

The river is navigable for over 1,000 miles, to above Chunking in Sichuan Province. This brings to mind the 1963 Steve McQueen movie, The Sand Pebbles, about a U.S. gunboat in China in the 1920's assigned to keep battling warlords apart by cruising up and down the Yangtze, which the U.S. did from the 1860's to the 1920's.

The Sichuan Basin is home to the fascinating dawn redwood, a species previously known only through preserved fossils in rock. Millions of years ago, the dawn redwood, a relative of the California redwood and giant sequoia, was one of the world's predominant tree species but was assumed to have been extinct for tens of millions of years. Then, in 1947, the tree was actually discovered live in a remote corner of the Sichuan Basin. It has since become a popular ornamental.

Categories: Bodies of water; ecology and the environment