Back in 1996 orbiting satellites detected a huge ice lake near Khorgos river on the Kazakhstan-Chinese border. Last summer there was sent a research expedition to that place and the specialists were shocked: a catastraphic mudslide could happen in any moment! The lake was called “Kapkan” (“Trap”).
At the border with China they are building new infrastructure now with inhabited localities. They plan to turn the border crossing territory into the large transit and logistics center between China and the rest of Eurasia.
EMERCOM often flies here.
They are investing hundreds of million dollars into the project. The center of international cooperation is growing very fast, but nobody thought about mudslides and floods which could happen near the basin of Khorgos.
The huge construction site appeared right in the steppe.
They are building railroads, automobile roads and bridges.
People are already settling here.
In the Soviet times only border guards and militarymen stayed here. Natural disasters were not the main threat then.
Khorgos has considerably changed.
And this is what is happening on the Chinese side. Their buildings grow even much faster.
The Chinese have already built a city for 80 thousand people.
The guys are working with enthusiasm.
And they keep smiling.
Two years ago there already was a mudslide at the Khorgos, it destroyed all protective structures there. So the authorities decided to develop and realize the project that could protect the territory from such natural disasters.
They are cleaning and strengthening the riverbed now. 3,5 million dollars was provided for this.
The riverbed of the Khorgos is being expanded and strengthened at the distance of dozens of miles. Today it is 328 ft wide and 20 ft deep.
But the main danger is high in the mountains.
It’s not always easy to get to the headwater of the Khorgos, the weather changes rapidly.
We have to go up for almost 4500 m (2,8 miles). The carrying capacity of the rotor falls at such height, so each kilogram matters.
Sacks with ammonium nitrate are being loaded into the helicopter.
There are 20 sacks, 110 pounds each.
The helicopter is flying to the valley of the Usek river.
The Dzhungarsky Alatau is characterized but numerous deep lakes, rivers and steep gorges. These places are virgin, nobody has ever lived here. Only two expeditions have flown to the area. Meanwhile, the helicopter turns to China.
It’s hard to breathe at such height. The air is very cold.
It’s the mountain permafrost zone or the moraine. Glaciers are not eternal, they have a period of formation, melting and destruction. And these periods last for millenia. The final phase is the formation of moraine lakes which is now happening in Dzhungarsky and Zhetysusky Alatau. The basin of Khorgos has 38 glacial lakes in general. Twenty one of them are on the Chinese side, the rest are on our side.
Such lakes grow in the beginning of July and till the mid of August. Then it becomes colder in the mountains and melting of glaciers becomes slower.
Several lakes can form on one moraine.
Those mountains behind the lake are Chinese ones.
And this is where we were flying to. Kapkan (Trap) is not just a lake but a system from five cascaded resrvoirs.
The most dangerous one is this lake number 2. The height is 3450 m (1,86 miles) above sea level.
If anyone got here he/she would not be able to go any further being “trapped” – on the right is China, on the left and straight are impenetrable passes. That’s why they called the lake “Trap”.
The scientists were shocked when they saw the lake for the first time. It stretches for almost (0.62 miles), its volume is 3.7 million of cubic meters (2 300 cubic miles).
If Trap breaks through the huge amount of water will flow down collecting the waters of other lakes on its way. Mudslide is a mixture of water, mud, ice, stones, tree trunks etc. Rapidly flowing down it only increases its mass on its way. If it approaches the Khorgos it can be stopped by a very huge dam only.
A dam cannot be built in the area with no roads. The only thing they can do is to decrease the volume of the lake and not to let it overflow.
The higher level of the lake is the more ice is melted by the water. Those black circles are pipes which help to pump the water out. There are ten pipes like this on Kapkan. 60 litres (16 gallons) of water is pumped out each second. From 3,7 millions of cubic meters of the water only 2,1 remained. The plan to continue the work next year too.
The helicopter should be unloaded fast.
Twenty five people are constantly working at the lake. The working conditions are rather hard. Due to the lack of oxygene each movement is hard to do. Many of them suffer from mountain sickness: its symptoms are headache, nausea, vomiting, weakness. People change each two weeks. When it first snows the camp will be removed.
This is how they protect themselves from ultraviolet.
This girl cooks food for the group.
The people are going to the lake.
Here they are making a so-called “evacuation channel”.
The lake water will not rise above the bottom of the channel.
It is made deeper by explosions, this is why they brought the ammonium nitrate here.
One explosion raises dozens of tons of stones in the air.
Here you can see how much they have managed to lower the lake level. More than two millions of tons of water has been pumped out.
The specialists are examining the place of the explosion.
They should also check if the pipes are not damaged by the falling stones.
“Kapkan” glacier is 41 million of cubic meters of pure ice.
This is what grows here.
The lakes are half-frozen.
Through the gorge we come to the valley.
Khorgos is also a corn capital of Kazakhstan. Now it’s the time of harvest.
Corn piles are in each yard.
People live their life and do not think about those dangers which hide in the far glaciers of Dzhungaria.