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Murals on China’s ancient Silk Road are ‘directly threatened’ by extreme rainfall, study finds

A mural in the east cave of Jinta Temple in China’s Gansu province crumbles and peels off due to the effects of humidity on April 27. (Credit: Greenpeace/Zhangye Cultural Heritage Administration)

China’s ancient Buddhist murals and statues along the Silk Road are “directly threatened” by extreme rainfall linked to climate change, according to a study released Monday by Greenpeace.

The Mogao Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, form a system of nearly 500 caves dating back to the 4th century and housing some 45,000 square meters of murals and over 2,000 painted sculptures, as well as thousands of manuscripts.

According to UNESCO, its discovery in 1990 in the northwest Chinese province of Gansu has been hailed as “the world’s greatest discovery of ancient oriental culture” and an invaluable reference for the study of ancient China and its history. Central Asia.

On Monday, cultural heritage conservation experts from the Dunhuang Research Academy and climatologists from Greenpeace East Asia met in Beijing to discuss the impact of extreme rainfall in Gansu, climate change and what it means. stands for Chinese cultural heritage.

In their statement, Greenpeace warned that the Dunhuang and Zhangye fields in Gansu were already showing deterioration due to periods of heavy rains, humidity and rapid weather fluctuations, the researchers said.

“Gansu is famous for its caves and for the art that has been stored there for centuries,” said Li Zhao, senior researcher at Greenpeace East Asia’s office in Beijing. “Increased rainfall in the desert poses a serious risk. Humidity spikes, flash floods and landslides are already occurring.”

The report points out that total rainfall in Gansu province has increased overall, while the number of days with rainfall has decreased, meaning that when it rains, it is more extreme. This follows global climate trends that show an increase in extreme precipitation events around the world, including an increase in the number of heat waves and droughts around the world.

In Gansu province, rainfall between December 2021 and February 2022 was 76 percent higher than previous years and the highest since 1961, according to the provincial meteorological administration.

When water vapor levels reach 60-65% humidity, saturation can cause salt to crystallize on the paint surface, causing peeling and peeling. According to Greenpeace, investigations show that some deposits already show “significant flakes and detachments”.

The report comes as China begins its fourth national cultural heritage survey this year to record the status of the country’s historic artifacts.

“At the end of this study, some objects may have disappeared,” Li said.
The release of the report also comes as US climate envoy John Kerry travels to Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua and other senior officials.