1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lop-nor

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LOP-NOR or Lob-nor, a lake of Central Asia, in the Gobi Desert, between the Astin-tagh (Altyn-tagh) on the south and the Kuruk-tagh on the north. Previous to 1876 it was placed in nearly all maps at 42° 30′ N., a position which agreed with the accounts and the maps of ancient Chinese geographers. In the year mentioned the Russian explorer Przhevalsky discovered two closely connected lake-basins, Kara-buran and Kara-koshun, fully one degree farther south, and considerably east of the site of the old Lop-nor, which lake-basins he nevertheless regarded as being identical with the old Lop-nor of the Chinese. But the water they contained he pronounced to be fresh water. This identification was disputed by Baron von Richthofen, on the ground that the Lop-nor, the “Salt Lake” of the Chinese geographers, could not be filled with fresh water; moreover, being the final gathering basin of the desert stream, the Tarim, it was bound to be salt, more especially as the lake had no outflow. Przhevalsky visited the Lop-nor region again in 1885, and adhered to his opinion. But ten years later it was explored anew by Dr Sven Hedin, who ascertained that the Tarim empties part of its waters into another lake, or rather string of lakes (Avullu-köl, Kara-köl, Tayek-köl and Arka-köl), which are situated in 42° 30′ N., and thus so far justified the views of von Richthofen, and confirmed the Chinese accounts. At the same time he advanced reasons for believing that Przhevalsky’s lake-basins, the southern Lop-nor, are of quite recent origin—indeed, he fixed upon 1720 as the probably approximate date of their formation, a date which von Richthofen would alter to 1750. Besides this, Sven Hedin argued that there exists a close inter-relation between the northern Lop-nor lakes and the southern Lop-nor lakes, so that as the water in the one group increases, it decreases to the same proportion and volume in the other. He also argued that the four lakes of northern Lop-nor are slowly moving westwards under the incessant impetus of wind and sandstorm (buran). These conclusions were afterwards controverted by the Russian traveller, P. K. Kozlov, who visited the Lop-nor region in 1893–1894—that is, before Dr Sven Hedin’s examination. He practically only reiterated Przhevalsky’s contention, that the ancient Chinese maps were erroneously drawn, and that the Kara-koshun, in spite of the freshness of its water, was the old Lop-nor, the Salt Lake par excellence of the Chinese. Finally, in 1900, Dr Sven Hedin, following up the course of the Kum-darya, discovered—at the foot of the Kuruk-tagh, and at the E. (lowest) extremity of the now desiccated Kuruk-darya, with traces of dead forest and other vegetation beside it and beside the river-bed—the basin of a desiccated salt lake, which he holds to be the true ancient Lop-nor of the Chinese geographers, and at the same time he found that the Kara-koshun or Lop-nor of Przhevalsky had extended towards the north, but shrunk on the south. Thus the old Lop-nor no longer exists, but in place of it there are a number of much smaller lakes of newer formation. It may fairly be inferred that, owing to the uniform level of the region, the sluggish flow of the Tarim, its unceasing tendency to divide and reunite, conjoined with the violence and persistency of the winds (mostly from the east and north-east), and the rapid and dense growth of the reed-beds in the shallow marshes, the drainage waters of the Tarim basin gather now in greater volume in one depression, and now in greater volume in another; and this view derives support from the extreme shallowness of the lakes in both Sven Hedin’s northern Lop-nor and Przhevalsky’s southern Lop-nor, together with the uniformly horizontal level of the entire region.

See Delmar Morgan’s translation of Przhevalsky’s From Kuja across the Tian-shan to Lop-nor (London, 1879); Von Richthofen’s “Bemerkungen zu den Ergebnissen von Oberst-Leutenant Prjewalskis Reise nach dem Lop-nor” in Verhandl. der Gesch. f. Erdkunde zu Berlin (1878), pp. 121 seq.; Sven Hedin’s Scientific Results of a Journey in Central Asia, 1899–1902 (vols. i. and ii., Stockholm, 1905–1906), where Kozlov’s share of the controversy is summarized (cf. ii., 270-280).  (J. T. Be.)