China Melts Tibetan Permafrost To Plant Forest

China's leaders are concerned about their newly acquired Tibetan city of Nagqu. It seems that the Chinese troops stationed there, and the Han Chinese settlers who will take over from the Tibetans who have lived there for millennia, are disturbed by the lack of trees. Nagqu is 4,500 meters above sea level, you see.

(China melts Tibet's permafrost, plants trees)

The absence of trees ranked along with the area’s lack of oxygen, extreme cold and geographic isolation as top reasons for the mental breakdown of Chinese military personnel in this city 4,500 metres above sea level. Soldiers from Nagqu who would go to Lhasa on leave were known to leap off their buses to hug a tree, in tears, according to the People’s Liberation Army Daily.

Now China is taking the unprecedented – and expensive – step of harnessing solar power to melt permafrost to allow trees to grow in Nagqu. The project’s aim is to make the landscape more welcoming for Han settlers and soldiers struggling to cope emotionally with the treeless setting.

Workers have set up grassland solar panels in the area to convert sunlight to electricity for an enormous copper-wire grid buried in the ground. The generated heat melts the subsurface layer of frozen soil to save tree roots from “frostbite”, according to scientists who have visited the experimental site.

Workers have set up grassland solar panels in the area to convert sunlight to electricity for an enormous copper-wire grid buried in the ground. The generated heat melts the subsurface layer of frozen soil to save tree roots from “frostbite”, according to scientists who have visited the experimental site.

Robert Silverberg, in his 1970 novel Tower of Glass, describes the opposite idea - how to build a great tower in an unstable tundra:

From the tower's huge octagonal base radiate wide silvery strips of refrigeration tape, embedded fifty centimeters deep in the frozen carpet of soil, roots, moss, and lichens that is the tundra. The tapes stretch several kilometers in each direction. Their helium-II diffusion cells soak up the heat generated by the androids and vehicles used in building the tower. If the tapes were not there, the tundra would soon be transformed by the energy-output of construction into a lake of mud; the colossal tower's foundation-caissons would lose their grip, and the great building would tilt and tumble like a felled titan...

In their fan-favorite tongue-in-cheek 1991 novel Fallen Angels, sf writers Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn describe a spotlight of heat using orbital microwaves to keep some fallen astronauts warm on the tundra:

"Big Momma, it's cold here. We're going to freeze, all of us. We need heat. Can you give us a microwave spotlight? Have SUNSAT lock one of its projectors onto our transponder frequency and track us across the ice."

Via South China Morning Post.

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