LANZHOU -- A large unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), Ganlin-1, recently made a successful maiden flight for generating artificial precipitation in Northwest China's Gansu province, in the latest efforts to use technology for ecological protection.
During the flight, Ganlin-1 conducted operations such as atmospheric detection and catalyst spreading to generate precipitation.
"The use of UAVs for precipitation enhancement will help increase ice and snow reserves, promote the ecological restoration and protection of the Qilian Mountains and mitigate water shortage in parts of Gansu Province," said Wang Chenghai, a professor at Lanzhou University, adding the glaciers and snow resources of the mountain range are shrinking as a result of climate change.
The deployment of the UAV is one of the efforts for Gansu to strengthen ecological environmental protection after some long-standing environmental issues were dealt with to restore the damaged environment.
The Qilian Mountains is a major vast mountain range standing across the border of Gansu and Qinghai province, with an average altitude of over 4,000 meters. The range is an important water source of the Yellow River, China's second-longest, and a key ecological shield in western China.
Due to prominent problems such as over-exploitation of mineral resources, illegal construction and operation of hydropower facilities and excessive emissions by local enterprises, the ecological environment of the Qilian Mountains suffered serious damage for a period of time, which aroused high attention from the central authorities.
President Xi Jinping made important instructions several times on tackling the long-standing environmental violations in the Qilian Mountains, demanding resolute rectifications. In 2017, the central authorities punished local senior officials in Gansu for their failure to undertake their duties.
In the same year, the Central Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform, headed by Xi, passed a plan to establish the Qilian Mountains National Park and explore coordinated ways to protect the environment, improve local standards of living and supervise the exploitation of natural resources. Gansu also launched an ecological restoration campaign to protect the Qilian Mountains.
Authorities have closed 117 exploration and mining projects and eight hydropower stations. Meanwhile, all 484 residents of 149 households in the core area of the nature reserve were relocated by the end of 2017, and one-third of residents in the buffer area have also been displaced, said Yang Weijun, Party chief of Zhangye city, a key place for restoring the damaged environment. The city also imposed a grazing ban on some 63,300 hectares of grasslands.
In an inspection tour in Gansu in 2019, Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, said protecting the ecological environment of the Qilian Mountains is of great strategic significance to safeguarding the national ecological security and promoting the sustainable development of Gansu and the Hexi Corridor. He urged proper balance of the relationship between production and environment, active development of eco-friendly and sustainable industries and better protection of the grassland resources.
The Qilian Mountains National Park covers 50,200 square km -- 34,400 square km in Gansu and 15,800 square km in Qinghai. It is home to many rare animal species, including snow leopards, wild donkeys and blue sheep.
After years of intensive restoration efforts, the populations of snow leopards, Tibetan wild donkeys, white-lipped deer and alpine musk deer have been expanding as the quality of their habitats were significantly improved.
"Continuous monitoring shows that the populations of wild animals have proliferated and their distribution areas have expanded," said Ma Duifang, an official with the administration bureau of the park's Gansu section.
In December 2020, a video clip recorded by herdsmen in Kazak autonomous county of Aksay in the city of Jiuquan showed over 100 Tibetan wild donkeys grazed on snow-covered land.
A group of goitered or black-tailed gazelles were captured on video in another area of the park in Gansu. The footage showed 12 goitered gazelles hunting and running together in the vast Gobi Desert near Zhangye city.
"In the Gansu section of the Qilian Mountains, it is rare to see goitered gazelles move in groups," said Ashing, a Tibetan forest ranger who shot the video."With the further construction of the Qilian Mountains National Park, the ecological environment in this region will see sustained improvement," said Zhao Xumao, a researcher in ecology at Lanzhou University.