Permafrost research in China focused in 2005 on the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway which will be completed by October 2005. The Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute (CAREERI), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), was involved in revisions of the pavement design for ordinary embankment, as well as for viaducts on ice-rich, warm permafrost, at an estimated cost of 1.7 billion Yuan (about 200 millions USD).
This research focuses mainly on field and laboratory observations, in combination with numerical simulations; it takes into account climatic warming scenarios. This research programme will come to an end in 2006, but monitoring the interactions of permafrost and the railway will continue. Moreover, another important research programme supported by the Railway Ministry, «Installation of long-term monitoring systems along Qinghai-Tibet Railroad», just started, with an estimated cost of 60 millions Yuan (about 7 millions USD). It involves soil temperature monitoring and foundation deformation at 76 railway cross-sections.
Some engineering investigations along highways on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and in northeastern China were carried out to reduce problems linked to frost heaving and thaw settlement. A part of the oil pipeline from Russia was also discussed, with some preliminary permafrost investigation along the proposed routes in northeastern China. A preliminary survey of frost heaving of foundation soils, along the ambient temperature product oil pipeline from Golmud to Lhasa, was conducted jointly by the Corps of Engineers of the People’s Republic of China and CAREERI.
The Institute of Tibetan Plateau (ITP), CAS, was established in 2004, with its headquarters in Lhasa, Tibet, two branch offices in Beijing and Kunming, and a faculty body of about 30 that is undergoing rapid growth. The ITP focuses on terrestrial processes, including the geophysics of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, land-surface processes, biodiversity and endangered species. Three field stations were established in the Namcuo Lake (for lacustrine processes), Linzhi (for forest ecosystems), and Dingri (for alpine tundra) near Mount Everest. Alpine permafrost is found above 5800 m in the Namcuo Lake and Dingri areas; it will be studied within research projects linked to the long-term programmes and the recently granted National 973 Key Program «Cryosphere and Global Change on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau». The programme «Evolution of the QTP since the Holocene and its Relationship with Ecosystems» also includes some permafrost research projects focusing on active layer processes, carbon pools in permafrost and greenhouse gases emissions.
The CAS Institute of Geology and Geophysics in Beijing, the Institute of Earth Environment in Xi’an, CAREERI, and Lanzhou University are conducting research on lacustrine sediments and aeolian deposits on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau near Qinghai Lake, Qidam Basin, and in the western part of the QTP. The desertification processes and wind erosion, as well as erosion linked to frost and thawing processes, are some of the dominant processes in Tibet, which is the third largest desertic province (autonomous region of China).
The Harbin Institute of Technology, Transportation Research and Hydraulic Science Research established in 2005 a new geotechnical engineering laboratory dedicated to frozen soil mechanics and engineering. A field station on seasonally frozen ground was also established in Harbin for hydraulic and road engineering purposes in northeastern China. The observations collected will be quite important for the proposed and presently in-design Daqing to Shenyang Express Highway, which requires «no heave or settlement».
The First Asian Conference on Permafrost is in preparation and will include some major activities. Guodong Cheng, Jerry Brown, Hans Hubberten, Michael Davies and many other local and international organizers have met to plan the Conference, while attending the April CliC Conference in Beijing, during the EUCOP II conference in Potsdam, and in Lanzhou. Several workshops and excursions will focus on the classification of permafrost of Central Asia and the contributions of borehole measurements to the International Polar Year.
A meeting on ecological and sustainable development of the sources of the Yellow and Yangtze River was organized in Xining, Qinghai Province; with permafrost as one of the major topics, had large success. The Chinese government is indeed spending 7.5 billions Yuan (about 1 billion USD) in ecological mitigation in order to solve the problem of overgrazed grasslands. The Conference on High Elevation Glaciers and Climatic Change was successfully held September 5-9, 2005. Another conference on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau was held in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in October 2005.