Lop Nur or Lop Nor (from a Mongolian name meaning "Lop Lake") is a
former salt lake in China, now largely dried-up, located between the
Taklamakan and Kumtag deserts in the southeastern portion of Xinjiang
Uygur Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China.
Administratively, the lake is in
Lop Nur township (罗布泊镇
pinyin: Luóbùpō zhèn, also known as Luozhong 罗中, pinyin: Luó
zhōng) of Ruoqiang County, which in its turn is part of the
Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture.
The lake system into which the
Tarim River and
Shule River empty is
the last remnant of the historical post-glacial Tarim Lake, which once
covered more than 10,000 km2 (3,900 sq mi) in the Tarim
Lop Nur is hydrologically endorheic— it is landbound and
there is no outlet. The lake measured 3,100 km2
(1,200 sq mi) in 1928, but has dried up due to construction
of dams which blocked the flow of water feeding into the lake system,
and only small seasonal lakes and marshes may form. The dried-up Lop
Nur Basin is covered with a salt crust ranging from 30 cm to 1 m
Lop Nur has been used as a nuclear testing site, and since the
discovery of potash at the site in the mid-1990s it is also the
location of a large-scale mining operation.
There are some restricted areas under military management and cultural
relics protection points in the region, which are not open to the
Lop Nur Nuclear Weapons Test Base
3 Archaeological sites around Lop Nur
3.2 Xiaohe Burial Site
4 Image gallery
5 See also
7 External links
From around 1800 BC until the 9th century the lake supported a
thriving Tocharian culture. Archaeologists have discovered the buried
remains of settlements, as well as several of the Tarim mummies, along
its ancient shoreline. Former water resources of the
Tarim River and
Lop Nur nurtured the kingdom of Loulan since the second century BC, an
ancient civilization along the Silk Road, which skirted the
lake-filled basin. Loulan became a client-state of the Chinese empire
in 55 BC, renamed Shanshan.
Marco Polo in his travels passed through
the Lop Desert, and the famous explorers Ferdinand von Richthofen,
Sven Hedin and
Aurel Stein visited and studied
the area. It is also likely that Swedish soldier Johan Gustaf Renat
had visited the area when he was helping the Zunghars to produce maps
over the area in the eighteenth century.
Lop Nur by Folke Bergman, 1935. Kara-Koshun where the terminal
lake was found in 1867 is located to the south-west of Lop Nor, and
the lake had shifted back to Lop Nor by the time this map was drawn.
Taitema Lake was a smaller transit lake and located to the west of
The lake was given various names in ancient Chinese texts. In Shiji
it was called Yan Ze (鹽澤, literally Salt Marsh), indicating its
saline nature, and near which was located the ancient Loulan
Hanshu it was called Puchang Hai (蒲昌海, literally
Sea of Abundant Reed) and was given a dimension of 300 to 400 li
(roughly 120–160 km) in length and breadth, indicating it
was once a lake of great size. These early texts also mentioned the
belief, mistaken as it turns out, that the lake joins the Yellow River
at Jishi through an underground channel as the source of the
The lake was referred to as the "Wandering Lake" in the early 20th
century due to the
Tarim River changing its course, causing its
terminal lake to alter its location between the
Lop Nur dried basin,
the Kara-Koshun dried basin and the Taitema Lake basin. This shift
of the terminal lake caused some confusion amongst the early explorers
as to the exact location of Lop Nur. Imperial maps from the Qing
Lop Nur to be located in similar position to the
Lop Nur dried basin, but the Polish geographer Mikołaj
Przewalski instead found the terminal lake at Kara-Koshun in 1867.
Sven Hedin visited the area in 1900-1901 and suggested that the Tarim
river periodically changed its course to and fro between its
southbound and northbound direction, resulting in a shift in the
position of the terminal lake. The change in the course of the river,
which resulted in
Lop Nur drying up, was also suggested by Hedin as
the reason why ancient settlements such as Loulan had perished.
In 1921, due to human intervention, the terminal lake shifted its
position back to Lop Nur. The lake measured 2400 km2 in area in
1930-31. In 1934 Sven Hedin went down the new Kuruk Darya ('Dry
River') in a canoe. He found the delta to be a maze of channels and
the new lake so shallow that it was difficult to navigate even in a
canoe. In 1900 he had walked the dry Kuruk Darya in a caravan. In 1952
the terminal lake then shifted to Taitema Lake when the Tarim River
and Konque River were separated through human intervention, and Lop
Nur dried out again by 1964. In 1972, the Great West Sea Reservoir
(Daxihaizi, 大西海子) was built at Tikanlik, water supply to the
lake was cut off, and all the lakes for the most part then dried out,
with only small seasonal lakes forming in local depressions in
Taitema. The loss of water to the lower
Tarim River Valley also
led to the deterioration and loss of poplar forests and tamarix shrubs
that used to be extensively distributed along the lower Tarim River
Valley forming the so-called 'Green Corridor'. In 2000, in an effort
to prevent further deterioration of the ecosystem, water was diverted
Lake Bosten in an attempt to fill the Taitema Lake. The
Taitema Lake however had shifted 30 to 40 kilometres (19 to
25 mi) westwards during the past 40 years due in part to the
spread of the desert. Another cause of the destabilization of the
desert has been the cutting of poplars and willows for firewood; in
response, a restoration project to reclaim the poplar forests was
The Kara-Koshun dried basin may be considered part of the greater Lop
On 17 June 1980, Chinese scientist
Peng Jiamu disappeared while
Lop Nur in search of water. His body was never found, and
his disappearance remains a mystery. 3 On June 1996, the Chinese
Yu Chunshun died while trying to walk across Lop Nur.
Coordinates: 40°10′N 90°35′E / 40.167°N 90.583°E /
Lop Nur Nuclear Weapons Test Base
See also: List of nuclear weapons tests of China
China established the
Lop Nur Nuclear Test Base on 16 October 1959
with Soviet assistance in selection of the site, with its headquarters
at Malan, about 125 km (78 mi) northwest of Qinggir. The
first Chinese nuclear bomb test, codenamed "596", occurred at Lop Nur
in 1964. The PRC detonated its first hydrogen bomb on 17 June 1967.
Until 1996, 45 nuclear tests were conducted. These nuclear tests
were conducted by dropping bombs from aircraft and towers, launching
missiles, detonating weapons underground and in the atmosphere.
In 2009, Jun Takada, a Japanese scientist known for prominently
opposing the tests as "the Devil's conduct", published the results of
his computer simulation which suggests - based on deaths from Soviet
tests - that 190,000 people could have died in China from
nuclear-related illnesses. Enver Tohti, an exiled pro-Uyghur
independence activist, claimed that cancer rates in the province of
Xinjiang were 30 to 35% higher than the national average. On 29
July 1996, China conducted its 45th and final nuclear test at Lop Nor,
and issued a formal moratorium on nuclear testing the following day,
although further subcritical tests were suspected. In 2012, China
announced plans to spend $1 million to clean up the Malan (马兰,
Mǎlán) nuclear base in Lop Nor to create a red tourism site.
A unique species of camel, the
Wild Bactrian camel
Wild Bactrian camel which are a
separate species from the Bactrian camel, is found in the area
previously used for nuclear testing. The camels however are now
critically endangered and only about 1400 survive, as human incursions
into the area after the nuclear testing stopped have caused a decline
in the camel population. Most of the remaining camels live on the Lop
Nur test base, which has been designated the
Lop Nur Wild Camel
National Nature Reserve.
A highway from Hami to
Lop Nur (
Xinjiang Provincial Hwy 235) was
completed in 2006.
Lop Nur Railway, which runs 374.83 km (232.91 mi)
north to Hami, along the same route, opened to freight operations in
November 2012. The railway is used to transport potassium-rich salt
mined at the lake to the Lanzhou–
Archaeological sites around Lop Nur
Given the extreme dryness and resulting thin population, remains of
some buildings survived for a significant period of time. When ancient
graves, some a few thousand years old, were opened the bodies were
often found to be mummified and grave goods well preserved. The
earliest sites are associated with an ancient people of Indo-European
Main article: Loulan Kingdom
Loulan or Kroran was an ancient kingdom based around an important
oasis city already known in the 2nd century BCE on the
north-eastern edge of the Lop Desert. It was renamed
Chinese took control of the kingdom in 1st century BCE. It was
abandoned some time in the seventh century. Its location was
Sven Hedin in 1899, who excavated some houses and found
Kharosthi tablet and many Chinese manuscripts from the
Western Jin Dynasty
Western Jin Dynasty (265–420).
Aurel Stein also excavated at the
site in the beginning of the 20th century, while Chinese
archaeologists explored the area in the latter part of the 20th
century. A mummy called the "Beauty of Loulan" was found at a cemetery
site on the bank of Töwän River.
Europoid Mask, from Xiaohe Tombs complex near Lop Nur, China,
Xiaohe Burial Site
Main article: Xiaohe Tomb complex
Xiaohe Tomb complex
Xiaohe Tomb complex is located to the west of Lop Nur. This
bronze-age burial site is an oblong sand dune, from which more than
thirty well preserved mummies have been excavated. The entire Xiaohe
Tomb complex contains about 330 tombs, about 160 of which have been
violated by grave robbers. A local hunter guided the Swedish
explorer and archeologist
Folke Bergman to the site in 1934. An
excavation project by the
Xinjiang Cultural Relics and Archaeology
Institute began in October 2003. A total of 167 tombs have been dug up
since the end of 2002 and excavations have revealed hundreds of
smaller tombs built in layers, as well as other precious artifacts. In
2006, a valuable archeological finding was uncovered: a boat-shaped
coffin wrapped in ox hide, containing the mummified body of a young
In 1979, some of the earliest of the
Tarim mummies were discovered in
burial sites at Qäwrighul (Gumugou), which is located to the west of
Lop Nur, on the Könchi (Kongque) river. Forty-two graves, most of
which dated from 2100-1500 BC, were found. There were two types of
tomb at the site, belonging to two different time periods. The first
type of burial featured shaft pit graves, some of which had poles at
either end to mark east and west. Bodies were found extended, usually
facing east, and sometimes were wrapped in wool weavings and wearing
felt hats. Artifacts found included basketry, wheat grains, cattle and
sheep/goat horns, bird bone necklaces and bracelets, nephrite beads,
and fragments of copper (or bronze), although no pottery was
The second type of burial, from a later period, also consisted of
shaft pit graves, surrounded by seven concentric circles of poles. Six
male graves were found, in which the bodies were extended on their
backs, and facing towards the east. Few artifacts were found, except
for some traces of copper, or bronze.
Main article: Miran (Xinjiang)
Miran is located to the south-west of Lop Nur. Buddhist monasteries
were excavated here, and murals and sculptures showed artistic
influences form India and Central Asia, with some showing influences
from as far as Rome.
Lop Nur by satellite.
Satellite picture of the
Lop Desert with the basin of the formerly sea
Lop Nur. In the left Kuruk-tagh, in the right Astin-tagh.
Satellite image of a potassium chloride factory in Lop Nur.
Silk Road transmission of Buddhism
List of nuclear weapons tests of China
^ Barber, Elizabeth (2000). The Mummies of Urümchi. W. W. Norton
& Company. p. 125. Two groups have laid claim to nor, the
second half of Lop Nor. Nor is Mongol for "lake" and occurs as part of
many lake names in
Xinjiang and other parts of Central Asia, while nur
is Uyghur for "bright" (as in the white of the salt flats). Mongol
probably wins this one. But lop is opaque in both languages and in
Chinese too, a fact suggesting that the name goes back to a time
before Turks, Mongols, or Chinese had entered the territory.
^ a b "Lop Nor Nuclear Weapons Test Base". nti. Retrieved
^ "Lop Nur, Xinjiang, China". Earth Observatory. June 19, 2011.
^ 三问哈罗铁路. 《新疆哈密广播电视报》. 2012-12-06.
^ J.M. Dent (1908), "Chapter 36: Of the Town of Lop Of the Desert in
its Vicinity - And of the strange Noises heard by those who pass over
the latter", The travels of
Marco Polo the Venetian,
^ "The Wandering Lake". nasa.gov. Retrieved 2007-08-03.
^ August Strindberg, "En svensk karta över Lop-nor och
Tarimbäckenet" (in Swedish)
^ Zizhi Tongjian Original text:
Translation; Puchang Hai, another name is You Ze, also called Yan ze,
Furi Hai, Chuan Lan, and Lin Hai. It is located to the south-west of
Shiji Original text:
而樓蘭、姑師邑有城郭，臨鹽澤。Translation: The cities
of Loulan and Gushi have walls; they lie near to Yan Ze.
^ a b
Hanshu Original text:
Translation: Puchang Hai, also named Yan Ze, lies over 300 li from the
Yumen and Yangguan Pass, and is 300 to 400 li in length and breadth.
Its waters are stagnant, and do not increase or decrease during the
winter or summer. It is generally believed that the water flows hidden
underground, emerges south at Jishi, and becomes the Chinese River
(meaning Yellow River).
^ Lou Yulie (ed.). Buddhism. Brill. p. 270.
^ a b c Zhao Songqiao and Xia Xuncheng (1984). "Evolution of the Lop
Desert and the Lop Nor". The Geographical Journal. 150 (3): 311–321.
doi:10.2307/634326. JSTOR 634326.
^ a b Makiko Onishi and Asanobu Kitamoto. "Hedin, the Man Who Solved
the Mystery of the Wandering Lake: Lop Nor and Lou-lan". Digital Silk
^ Sven Hedin, The Wandering lake, 1940. The river was also called the
Kum Darya ('Sand River.) The Gizi map of
Xinjiang calls it the Konche,
which is probably a mistake.
^ Liang Chao (2004-04-13). "Quenching thirst in Tarim Basin". China
Daily. Archived from the original on 2012-05-10.
^ "Desert Intrudes upon Tarim Lake". china.org.cn. Retrieved
Tarim River Ecological Protection Suggested". china.org.cn.
^ "China Creates 'Man-made Oasis' Along Longest Inland River". Xinhua
News Agency. Chinagate.com.cn. September 15, 2007.
^ "Found Dead - Yu Chunshun, 48, Intrepid Chinese explorer".
asiaweek.com. Retrieved 2007-09-18.
^ Burrows and Fieldhouse, Andrew S. and Richard (1993). Nuclear
Weapons Databook. Boulder: Westview Press. pp. p. 380. CS1
maint: Extra text (link)
^ Subhabrata Das (Apr 20, 2009). "China's nuclear tests allegedly
caused 190k deaths". Digital Journal.
^ Zeeya Merali (July 8, 2009). "Did China's Nuclear Tests Kill
Thousands and Doom Future Generations?". Scientific American.
Retrieved 27 October 2012.
^ Jeffrey Lewis (April 3, 2009). "
Subcritical Testing at Lop Nor".
Arms Control Wonk.
^ "China to open ex-atomic site to tourists". Beijing: United Press
International. 2012-10-17. Retrieved 2012-10-27.
^ "'New' camel lives on salty water". 6 February 2001.
^ "Wild Camel". Wild Camel Protection Foundation.
^ a b China starts building railway into "sea of death" Archived
2012-02-29 at the Wayback Machine., GOV.cn, Thursday, 4 March 2010
^ "Burial Site from the Bronze Age, Lop Nur, Xinjiang".
www.china.org.cn. Retrieved 2007-09-18.
Silk Road Documentary Unearths Latest Findings". china.org.cn.
^ Kwang-tzuu Chen and Fredrik T. Hiebert (1995). "The Late Prehistory
Xinjiang in Relation to Its Neighbors". Journal of World Prehistory
9 (2): 243-300.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lop Nur.
Map of the
Lop Nur nuclear test facility
Lop Nor Nuclear Weapons Test Base
DF-31 Tested on 10 June 1994
Surveying the Lop Nor
Salt Fields in Former “Wandering” Lake Lop Nur, China - May 13th,
2009 - Earth Snapshot
Downloadable article: "Evidence that a West-East admixed population
lived in the
Tarim Basin as early as the early Bronze Age" Li et al.
BMC Biology 2010, 8:15. 
Lakes of China
Five Great Lakes
Notable freshwater lakes
Heaven (Changbai Tianchi)
Notable salt lakes
Rakshastal (La-Ang Tso)
East Lake (Wuhan)
Major urban lakes
See also: List of dams and reservo