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Studies of sand aim to protect high-speed railway

China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-13 09:27

LANZHOU — Chinese scientists are endeavoring to ensure the smooth and safe operation of a high-speed railway in the windy Gobi Desert by better understanding the movement of sand.

They have made progress in revealing the movement of sediment by strong winds along the Lanzhou-Xinjiang high-speed railway in Northwest China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources said.

The study is of practical importance to the safe operation of the line and could serve as a theoretical foundation for preventing and managing disasters caused by winds along the railway, said Liu Benli, a researcher at the institute.

The 1,776-kilometer high-speed railway links Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, with Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province.

Strong winds that blow over the vast Gobi can cause significant environmental problems and damage to infrastructure, but Liu said scientific understanding of the underlying mechanisms and dynamics of the process remains limited.

Institute researchers selected a windy area along the railway to carry out field observations of the transportation of windblown sand.

The study results indicate that sand transportation heights in the region can reach 9 meters, roughly three to six times higher than in other gravel deserts.

Wang Tao, an associate researcher at the institute, said the study proposes suggestions for improving the railway's windblown sand protection system.

It found that the amount of windblown sand transported in the region each year exceeds that of most other deserts around the world, and that fine sand and total suspended particulates contribute to around 90 percent of the sediment deposited on railway tracks.

"To control transportation of these fine particles, we propose increasing the height of sand-blocking fences within the current railway windblown sand protection system from 2 to 3 meters," Wang said.

Simultaneously, damage to the Gobi's surface caused by human activities should be minimized to reduce the excessive release of dust, he added.

The results of the study have been published in the journal Land Degradation & Development.

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