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10 Facts about Three Gorges Dam that Slowed the Earth’s Rotation

Three Gorges Dam was completed in 2003 and is presently the world’s largest hydropower dam. The project began in 1994 when China was looking for a cleaner and more effective way to create energy to meet the demands of the country’s rapidly growing population as well as the advancement of technology.

China’s Three Gorges Dam is among the world’s most ambitious and contentious undertakings. This dam also served another crucial purpose. Because of the Yangtze River’s size, the locals were subjected to floods, particularly during the rainy season, affecting millions of people. The dam was designed to improve the quality of life for the inhabitants of Hubei Province, but it actually made matters worse and retarded the earth’s rotation.

Let’s take a look at 10 interesting facts about Three Gorges Dam and how it makes the Earth rotate SLOW.

10 Facts about the Three Gorges Dam

History

The proposal for the Three Gorges Dam was first considered by Chinese Nationalist Party leaders in the 1920s and was given new impetus in 1953 when Chinese leader Mao Zedong ordered feasibility assessments of a variety of sites. The project’s detailed planning began in 1955. Premier Li Peng, who had trained as an engineer, was eventually able to persuade the National People’s Congress to ratify the dam decision in 1992, despite the fact that nearly a third of its members abstained or voted against the project—an unprecedented show of opposition from a normally acquiescent body. In 1994, President Jiang Zemin did not join Li at the dam’s official inauguration, and the World Bank refused to advance China cash to assist with the project, citing serious environmental and other concerns. Construction of the dam’s main wall was finished in 2006. The remaining dam generators were operational by mid-2012, and a ship lift, which allowed boats weighing up to 3,000 tonnes to circumvent the five-tier ship locks and transit through the dam more rapidly, was finished in late 2015 and began formally working in 2016.

Physical Dimensions

The Three Gorges Dam is a straight-crested concrete gravity construction that is 2,335 meters (7,660 feet) long and 185 meters high (607 feet). Its design includes 28 million cubic meters (37 million cubic yards) of concrete and 463,000 metric tonnes of steel. The dam, which submerged major portions of the Qutang, Wu, and Xiling gorges for 600 km (375 miles) upstream, has created an enormous deep-water reservoir that allows oceangoing freighters to cruise 2,250 km (1,400 miles) inland from Shanghai on the East China Sea to the inland metropolis of Chongqing.

Cost

Estimates for the final cost of the project have fluctuated from $25 billion to $35 billion, according to various sources.

Purpose

The Three Gorges Dam was designed to serve three primary functions: flood control, hydroelectric power generation, and navigation enhancement, which some argue is also a significant benefit of having the dam.

Navigation

The five-tier ship locks at both ends of the complex, allow vessels of up to 10,000 tonnes to go past the dam, and a ship lift, which allows vessels of up to 3,000 tonnes to skip the ship locks and transit through the dam more rapidly, make navigation of the dam and reservoir easier. The lift, which was 120 meters (394 feet) long, 18 meters (59 feet) broad, and 3.5 meters (11 feet) deep when it was completed in late 2015, was the largest ship lift in the world.

Flood Control

For many years, periodic flooding of the Yangtze River has been a major source of anxiety for those affected by the natural calamity. The Yangtze River is the world’s third longest river, stretching 6,357 kilometers across Asia. During the flooding season, the Three Gorges issue helps keep the river at bay, protecting millions of houses and lives downstream as well as vital cities like Wuhan, Nanjing, and Shanghai.

The reservoir generated by the dam covers an area of 405 square miles.

Capacity

With the river rising 175 meters above sea level, the dam’s architecture can contain 39 trillion kilos of water (10 trillion gallons of water).

Power Generation

The Three Gorges Dam, with a capacity of 22,500 MW, provides 11 times more power than the equally gigantic Hoover Dam. The amount of electricity generated is so huge that the Three Gorges Dam is thought to be able to power the entire country of China.

Controversies

Since a large volume of water was held back by the dam, small earthquakes occurred in China’s western area.

Because the earthquakes caused by the dam were unstable, 1.3 million people from that region had to be relocated to keep the Chinese people safe. Aside from forcing people to flee their homes, the dam’s construction devastated historical landmarks and the ecosystems of many animal species, putting them in danger of extinction.

The dam flooded three cities, 114 towns, and 1,680 villages.

The reservoir’s erosion has caused landslides and has even threatened one of the world’s largest fisheries in the East China Sea. The dam is so big that it has generated a microclimate that threatens the region’s environment.

Slowing Earth’s Rotation

Because so much water was held up, an effect known as the “Moment of Inertia” occurred. Because of the large amount of water being forced through the barrier, Earth loses momentum when revolving. This moment is mostly caused by the planet’s massive amount of flowing water. 

Because of the large amount of water being forced through the barrier, Earth loses momentum when revolving. This moment is mostly caused by the planet’s massive amount of flowing water.

According to NASA’s estimations, the dam merely delays the rotation of the Earth by 0.06 microseconds. The rotation of the Earth is really slowed rather frequently by other causes such as the position of the moon, earthquakes, and even recently proven climate change.

Even more intriguing, the rotation of the Earth influenced time. Every five years or so, the day gets lengthened by one millisecond, which means that in the future, the day could be extended by hours. This caused the North Pole to move by two centimeters.

The Three Gorges Dam in China sparked fierce criticism both within China and in the international community. Millions of people have been uprooted, and cultural and natural treasures have been lost underground.

Dams continue to play a vital role in the global social, political, and economic system. However, for the foreseeable future, the particular nature of that role and how dams will interact with the environment will most certainly remain a source of contention.

Slowing the Earth’s Rotation – Is it Normal? 

Are skyscrapers slowing the earth's rotation?

Since the Earth’s formation, it has been spinning. Celestial bodies naturally rotate as a result of the gravitational aggregation of rocks and dust that are drifting in space over time as they form celestial bodies.  

However, once it starts, that rotation never remains consistent. The planet’s internal dynamics, such as the rotation of the core and surface winds, as well as external factors like other bodies’ gravitational pulls, have an impact on how Earth spins. 

The moon, our natural satellite, is by far the most significant force influencing the planet’s rotation. 

The slowing of the Earth’s rotation has been happening ever since the moon started orbiting the Earth. A day was just 18.7 hours long 1.4 billion years ago, in the Neoproterozoic era when the moon was 27,000 miles closer to Earth then than it is now. 

A shift in any object’s mass on Earth relative to the axis of rotation will change a moment of inertia, though most are too small to be measured. The rotation of the Earth can be altered by any of its dynamic processes, from winds and atmospheric pressures to earthquakes and glaciation. Major earthquakes in the past have also increased the Earth’s spin and thus decreased the length of the day, causing rotational shifts. 

Earth Broke the Record for the Shortest Day- 1.59 Milliseconds

According to the International Earth Rotation & Reference Systems Service (an organization in charge of global timekeeping), on June 29, 2022, the Earth’s regular 24-hour rotation was 1.59 milliseconds quicker than usual, shattering the previous record for the shortest day in recorded history. 

The previous record was set on July 19, 2020, when the day had a deviation of 1.47 milliseconds from the average. 

Environmental and social impacts

The Three Gorges Dam is a massive hydroelectric generator that provides significant environmental benefits. Its full operation has resulted in a 31 million-ton annual reduction in China’s coal consumption, leading to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and avoidance of millions of tons of dust and other hazardous chemicals. This has also helped to save transportation costs associated with coal.

On a less charming note, the dam has negatively affected the ecosystem of that area. There has been a loss of habitat, reduced species diversity, and disturbance in the food structure. 

Reservoir formed behind the Three Gorges Dam

The above image from NASA Earth Observatory shows the filling up of the valley behind the dam. The image was captured on April 15, 2009, by the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

The Three Gorges Dam reservoir, which holds 39.3 million cubic meters of water and extends more than 600 km, has destabilized slopes and its weight has put tremendous strain on seismic faults of our planet. It has also displaced millions of people and submerged entire communities

Environmental and social impact of the Three Gorges Dam

Future Impact? 

What would occur if the earth’s rotation slowed down over a few decades before halting altogether? 

The length of a year would remain the same, but a day would last a year if the earth stopped rotating about its axis but kept circling around the sun with the same inclination. In this hypothetical scenario, the successive absence of centrifugal force would result in a catastrophic change in temperature and severe geologic adjustments to the altering equipotential gravitational condition (represented as catastrophic earthquakes). 

The oceans would inevitably move toward the poles if the globe remained still, creating land in the equatorial region. This would eventually lead to the formation of two sizable polar oceans and a massive equatorial mega-continent. If the world were a perfect ellipsoid, the line that separates the regions that hydrologically contribute to each ocean would follow the equator. 

The topology of the globe, including both the general shape of the world and the contour of the earth’s oceans, is largely influenced by the speed at which the earth rotates. The physical relief of the earth only plays a minor role in how ocean boundaries are established.  

As long as we can envision, the earth’s rotation will continue to slow down for years to come. The geometry of the world is altered and made dynamic by the slowness, which occurs infinitesimally but steadily. The cumulative effect of these dynamic changes is that the globe is becoming resembles a sphere. The gravitational equipotential produces a mean sea level that is a perfect sphere, but it will be billions of years before the globe stops spinning. 

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