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Qinghai Lake
From space (November 1994). North is to the left.
Location Tibetan Plateau
Coordinates 37°N 100°E / 37°N 100°E / 37; 100Coordinates: 37°N 100°E / 37°N 100°E / 37; 100
Lake type Shrunken lake
Surface area 4,186 km2 (1,616 sq mi) (2004), 4,489 km2 (1,733 sq mi) (2007)[1]
References [1]
Qinghai Lake
Chinese name
Chinese 青海湖
Literal meaning "Blue Sea Lake"
Manchu name
Manchu Huhu Noor
Mongolian name
Mongolian Koke naghur.svg Köke Naɣur[2]
literally "blue lake"
Tibetan name
Tibetan མཚོ་སྔོན་ or

(Wylie transliterations:
Mtsho-sngon-po or
Mtsho-khri-shor Rgyal-mo)

Qinghai Lake (Chinese: 青海湖; Hanyu Pinyin: Qīnghǎi hú) or mTsho sngon po in Tibetan language, historically known as Koko Nor or Kuku Nor (from the Mongolian name, literally meaning "Blue Lake"), is a saline lake situated in the province of Qinghai, and is the largest lake in China. The names Qinghai and Kokonor both mean "Blue/Teal Sea" in Standard Mandarin and Mongolian. It is located about 100 km west of the provincial capital of Xining at 3,205 m (10,515 feet) above sea level in a depression of the Tibetan Plateau in the traditional Tibetan province of Amdo.[3]Twenty-three rivers and streams empty into Qinghai Lake.

The lake has fluctuated in size, shrinking over much of the 20th century, but increasing since 2004. Despite its salinity, it has an abundance of fish, such as the edible naked carp (Gymnocypris przewalskii, huángyú (湟鱼)).[4]



Qinghai Lake is sandwiched between Hainan and Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures in northeastern Qinghai. The lake is located at the crossroads of several bird migration routes across Asia. Many species use Qinghai as an intermediate stop during migration. As such, it is a focal point in global concerns of avian influenza (H5N1), as a major outbreak here could spread the virus across Europe and Asia, further increasing the chances of a pandemic. Minor outbreaks of H5N1 have already been identified at the lake. At the tip of the peninsula on the western side of the lake are the "Bird Islands" (Cormorant Island and Egg Island), which have been bird sanctuaries of the Qinghai Lake Natural Protection Zone since 1997. The lake often remains frozen for three months continuously in winter.

A bird island

There is an island in the western part of the lake with a temple and a few hermitages called "Mahādeva, the Heart of the Lake" (mTsho snying Ma hā de wa) which historically was home to a Buddhist monastery.[5] No boat was used during summer, only when the lake froze over in winter could monks reach the mainland or pilgrims visit the temple - many of whom used to come from Mongolia. A nomad described the size of the island by saying that: "if in the morning a she-goat starts to browse the grass around it clockwise and its kid anti-clockwise, they will meet only in the night, which shows how big the island is."[6] It is also known as the place where Gushri Khan and other Qoshot Mongols migrated to during the 1620s.[7]

The lake is also sometimes circumambulated by pilgrims from the region. Przhevalsky estimated it would take about 8 days by horse or 15 walking to circumambulate the lake, but pilgrims report it takes about 18 days on horseback, and one took 23 days walking to complete the circuit.[8]


Qinghai Lake, May 2006

Prior to the 1960s, 108 freshwater rivers emptied into the lake. As of 2003, 85 % of the river mouths have dried up, including the lake's largest tributary, the Buha River. In between 1959 and 1982, there had been an annual water level drop of 10 centimeters, which was reversed at a rate of 10 cm/year between 1983 to 1989, but has continued to drop since. The Chinese Academy of Sciences reported in 1998 the lake was again threatened with loss of surface area due to livestock over-grazing, land reclamations and natural causes.[9] Lake surface area has decreased 11.7 percent in the period between 1908 and 2000 .[10] As a result of this, or possibly moving sand dune, higher lake floors were exposed, numerous water bodies were separated from the rest of the main lake around since the 20th century. In the 1960s, the 48.9 km² Gahai Lake (尕海, pinyin: Gǎhǎi) appeared in the northern part of the lake. During the 1980s, Shadao Lake (沙岛, pinyin: Shādǎo) split out in the northwest covers an area of 19.6 km², while the northeastern Haiyan Lake (海晏, pinyin: Hǎiyàn) is 112.5 km².[11] Another 96.7 km² daughter lake split off in 2004. In addition, the lake has now split into half a dozen more small lakes at the border. The water surface has shrunk by 312km² over the last three decades.[12]

See also


  • Buffetrille, Katia. "The Blue Lake of Amdo and Its Island: Legends and Pilgrimage Guide." In: The Tibet Journal Vol. XIX, No. 4, Winter, 1994.
  • Andreas Gruschke: "The realm of sacred lake Kokonor", in: The Cultural Monuments of Tibet’s Outer Provinces: Amdo vol. 1. The Qinghai Part of Amdo, White Lotus Press, Bangkok 2001; pp. 93ff. ISBN 9-7475-3459-2
  • Shakabpa, Tsepon W.D. Tibet: a Political History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962
  1. ^ a b Qinghai Province Weather Bureau
  2. ^ cyrillic spelling is Хөх нуур, Khökh nuur
  3. ^ Buffetrille 1994, p. 2; Gruschke 2001, pp. 90ff.
  4. ^ Su Shuyang: China ein Lesebuch zur Geschichte, Kultur und Zivilisation. Wissenmedia Verlag, 2008, p. 19. ISBN 3577143800
  5. ^ Gruschke 2001, pp. 93f.
  6. ^ Buffetrille 1994, pp. 2-3.
  7. ^ Shakabpa, Tsepon W.D. Tibet: a Political History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962
  8. ^ Buffetrille 1994, p. 2.
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ [2]
  11. ^ [3]
  12. ^ [4]

External links

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