Future Wonder of the World: Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges Dam Before Filling Reservoir
Image Courtesy Wikimedia
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When Three Gorges Dam goes fully online in China in 2009, after 17 years of construction, it will be 607 feet high and 1.4 miles long. Its reservoir will be 410 miles in length and 3,700 feet in width. It will be the largest dam on Earth, and probably the largest dam our planet will ever see.

The dam’s reservoir will require the relocation of over 1.5 million people. 13 full-sized cities were leveled by the people who lived in them, brick by brick, to prevent the buildings from interfering with boat traffic. Some 1,300 archaeological sites will also be submerged.

The dam also contributed to the extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin. The weight of the dam and reservoir can cause induced seismicity, or earthquakes. Over the fifteen days it took to initially fill the reservoir, there was a measurable wobble to the Earth’s spin.

Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges Dam 2006 (top) 2000(bottom)
Image Courtesy NASA

According to a Chinese official, the dam has three main functions:

The first is to avoid floods. That’s the most crucial function. The second is to generate electricity. The third is to improve transportation.

In 1954, the river flooded, killing 33,169 people and forcing 18,884,000 to relocate. The dam will prevent such events from occurring in the future. The dam’s 32 generators will produce 700,000 kW of electricity, with a total capacity of 22.4 million kW, which will reduce coal consumption by 31 million tons per year, cutting the emission of 100 million tons of greenhouse gas. In the educational video game, Civilization IV, the dam is a World Wonder, providing power to the entire continent.

All of this comes at the astoundingly low price of 180 billion yuan ($25 billion dollars).

So remember, when talking heads say humans are too tiny and insignificant to impact the environment, refer them to Three Gorges Dam, a project with many pros and cons that has literally made the Earth tremble.


  • Edward Burtynsky, Manufactured Landscapes, 2006.
  • Wikipedia Entry for Three Gorges Dam.





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