Is China’s Famous Yangtze River Drying Up? See the Latest 2024 Updates

Dry and cracked land on the Yangtze River bed
© xinjian/Shutterstock.com

Written by Jennifer Geer

Updated: October 24, 2023

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It’s the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world. The Yangtze River begins at the Tibetan Plateau and ends at the estuary of the East China Sea near Shanghai. The river flows for 3,900 miles in China through diverse ecosystems that support many species while sustaining local communities with drinking water. However, an unprecedented drought hit the area in the summer of 2022, exposing riverbeds and drying up lakes and tributaries.

The Yangtze River is the longest in the world to flow completely within the borders of one country.

©martinhosmart/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Is China’s famous Yangtze River drying up? Read on for the latest updates.

Is China’s Famous Yangtze River Drying Up?

Dry and cracked land on the Yangtze River bed

River beds along the Yangtze River were dry and cracked during China’s severe drought of 2022.

©xinjian/Shutterstock.com

In China, the record-breaking drought of 2022 caused some parts of the Yangtze River to dry up. During the summer, central and eastern Asia experienced extremely high temperatures and a lack of precipitation. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), China’s drought of 2022 affected over 38 million people and cost the area $4.75 billion.

Importance of the Yangtze River to China

The Yangtze River is home to 378 species of fish. It provides water to over 400 million people (one-third of China’s population) and is an important source of hydropower

Some of China’s largest cities get their water from the Yangtze including Shanghai, Chengdu, and Wuhan. The river flows past over 19 provinces, where many citizens depend on the waterway for their livelihood.

Wildlife Along the Yangtze River

The region along the river is home to a diverse amount of wildlife. Pandas live in the forests of the upper Yangtze, the Central Yangtze River area is a stopover point for 95% of the world’s Siberian crane population. The river and its basin are also home to 145 different amphibians, 762 species of birds, 280 mammals, and over 14,000 plant types.

The fun-loving and intelligent finless

porpoise

lives in the Yangtze River.

©BlackRabbit3/Shutterstock.com

The critically endangered Yangtze finless porpoise can only be found in the Yangtze River and two lakes connected to the river (Dongting and Poyang.) Porpoises are important in the food chain of ecosystems. They are also a critical indicator of the health of waterways. According to the World Wildlife Federation, there are currently around 1,000 finless porpoises left in the world.

What Happened to the Yangtze River During the 2022 Drought?

Dried cracked dirt with single sprouting green plant along the banks of the Yangtze River, China

The Yangtze River fell to half its usual levels in 2022, and many parts of the river were completely dry with parched and cracked ground revealed.

©Scott Gutentag/Shutterstock.com

Extremely high temperatures in the summer of 2022 caused the water along the river to evaporate. Because there was no rain, the water supply did not regenerate. By August 2022, the Yangtze River was at less than half its usual water levels. Shipping routes were impeded, hydropower was affected, drinking water was limited, and long submerged areas were exposed.

The receding waters revealed a submerged island in Chongqing and three Buddhist statues. The statues are believed to be at least 600 years old. The famous 700-year-old Guanyin Pavilion is typically surrounded by river waters. Photos from 2022 show the base of rocks revealed and people wading up to the structure. 

More Extreme Weather for the Yangtze River

The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China reports that China is experiencing more extreme weather. However, summer torrential rains have caused dangerous levels of flooding along the Yangtze River. Heavy rains along the river have disrupted the lives of over 130,000 people in 19 districts and counties. Crops were damaged, roadways were flooded, and rainwaters were inundating shops and homes.

The Ministry of Water Resources announced a level-IV emergency response due to flooding in 13 provincial regions in China, including along the Yangtze River.

Will Climate Change Cause More Extreme Weather Along the Yangtze River?

Climate change is bringing more extreme weather events to the world, including record-high temperatures, droughts, and flooding. It’s not only China’s Yangtze River that is suffering. Other rivers around the world are having unprecedented dry spells, including the Colorado River, the Rio Grande, China’s Yellow River, and the Indus River in Pakistan and India.

Additionally, vegetation around river systems is suffering. A recent study showed that droughts, combined with hot weather due to climate change have been severely impacting vegetation along the middle and lower regions of the Yangtze River.

Scientists have found extreme weather events due to climate change are contributing to floods and droughts along the Yangtze River. A recent study investigates how early warnings could help improve the damage from extreme weather and reduce loss from natural disasters. Further, in 2022, the Chinese government released a plan to help protect the Yangtze River from pollution by improving water quality, ensuring drinking water security, and maintaining biodiversity.


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About the Author

Jennifer Geer is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on animals, news topics, travel, and weather. Jennifer holds a Master's Degree from the University of Tulsa, and she has been researching and writing about news topics and animals for over four years. A resident of Illinois, Jennifer enjoys hiking, gardening, and caring for her three pugs.

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