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The Three Gorges Dam in the Hubei province of China is a huge but highly criticized project. It’s difficult to deny the value of hydropower as an alternative energy source to coal, but the project has possibly caused unintended consequences.

The Three Gorges Dam is about 594 feet (181 meters) tall and 7,770 feet (2,335 meters) long. The Three Gorges Reservoir extends 370 miles (600 kilometers) along the Yangtze River upstream from the dam. At full capacity, the reservoir has a surface water area of over 417 square miles (1,080 square kilometers).

The name “Three Gorges” refers to the narrow gorges that the Yangtze River flows through in this mountainous region: the Qutang, Wu, and Xiling gorges. Construction began in 1992, and the reservoir began filling in June 2003. In 2012, it became the world’s largest hydroelectric power plant, with a generating capacity of 22,500 megawatts, over 3 times that of the Grand Coulee Dam and 20 times that of Hoover Dam.

Landsat imagery displays the construction of the dam, and the reservoir filling behind the dam.

Imagery

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Sept. 24, 1993, Landsat 5 (path/row 125/39) — Three Gorges Dam, China
Aug. 15, 1996, Landsat 5 (path/row 125/39) — Three Gorges Dam, China
Sept. 1, 1999, Landsat 7 (path/row 125/39) — Three Gorges Dam, China
Sept. 1, 2002, Landsat 5 (path/row 125/39) — Three Gorges Dam, China
July 18, 2003, Landsat 5 (path/row 125/39) — Three Gorges Dam, China
Sept. 15, 2007, Landsat 5 (path/row 125/39) — Three Gorges Dam, China
Sept. 15, 2013, Landsat 8 (path/row 125/39) — Three Gorges Dam, China
Sept. 21, 2021, Landsat 8 (path/row 125/39) — Three Gorges Dam, China

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References (Earthshot Overview/Parent Only)

China.org.cn, 2011, Three Gorges Dam water discharge helps irrigation: China.org.cn Web page at http://www.china.org.cn/environment/2011-05/29/content_22664632.htm (Accessed June 4, 2015.)

Cleveland, C.J., 2013, Three Gorges Dam, China: The Encyclopedia of Earth. Available online at http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156614/. (Accessed May 4, 2015.)

Eco-Business, 2014, Landslide destroys dam in Three Gorges region: Eco-Business Web page at http://www.eco-business.com/news/landslide-destroys-dam-three-gorges-region/. (Accessed May 4, 2015.)

Feng, L., Hu, C., Chen, X., and Song, Q., 2014, Influence of the Three Gorges Dam on total suspended matters in the Yangtze Estuary and its adjacent coastal waters: Observations from MODIS: Remote Sensing of Environment, v. 140, p. 779–788. (Also available online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0034425713003702.)

Gleick, Peter H., 2014, Water Brief 3—Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China, in Gleick, P.H., and others, eds., The World’s Water, Volume 8—The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources: Washington, DC, Island Press, p. 139–150. (Also available online at http://worldwater.org/water-data/.)

Highland, L.M., 2008, Geographical overview of the Three Gorges dam and reservoir, China—Geologic hazards and environmental impacts: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2008–1241, 79 p. (Available online at http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2008/1241/.)

Huifeng, H., 2014, Three Gorges Dam exceeds cargo target set for 2030: South China Morning Post, available online at http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1519185/three-gorges-dam-exceeds-cargo-target-set-2030. (Accessed May 4, 2015.)

Hvistendahl, M., 2008, China's Three Gorges Dam: An Environmental Catastrophe? Scientific American, available online at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/chinas-three-gorges-dam-disaster/. (Accessed May 4, 2015.)

Kellogg, C.H., and Zhou, X., 2014, Impact of the construction of a large dam on riparian vegetation cover at different elevation zones as observed from remotely sensed data: International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, v. 32, p. 19–34.

NASA, 2012, Three Gorges Dam, China: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Web page at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA15655. (Accessed May 4, 2015.)

Scott, M., 2007, Three Gorges Dam, China: NASA Earth Observatory, available at http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=7769. (Accessed May 4, 2015.)

Stone, R., 2011, The Legacy of the Three Gorges Dam: Science, v. 333, no. 6044, p. 817. Available online at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6044/817.full.  (Accessed May 4, 2015.)

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, 2012, Grand Coulee Dam Statistics and Facts: USBR Fact Sheet, available online at http://www.usbr.gov/pn/grandcoulee/. (Accessed June 3, 2015.)

USGS, 2014, Three Gorges Dam—The world's largest hydroelectric plant: The USGS Water Science School Web page at http://water.usgs.gov/edu/hybiggest.html. (Accessed May 4, 2015.)

Xiankun, Y., and Lu, X.X., 2013, Ten years of the Three Gorges Dam—a call for policy overhaul: Environmental Research Letters, v. 8, n. 4.

Yuan, W., Yin, D., Finlayson, B., and Chen, Z., 2012, Assessing the potential for change in the middle Yangtze River channel following impoundment of the Three Gorges Dam: Geomorphology, v. 147–148, p. 27–34.

 

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