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When completed in 2009, the Three Gorges Dam will be the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. In May of 2006 the last of the concrete for the 185 meters (607 feet) high and 2,309 meters (1.4 mile) long wall was poured to block the drainage of the Yangtze River in China. The dam will not be considered complete until 2009, when the last of its electric turbines are installed.

The dam spans the Xilingxia Gorge, which is one of the three gorges the Yangtze River flows through, and controls a drainage area of 1 million square kilometers. Over 451 billion cubic meters of water flow through this drainage area each annually. The dam, from start to finish, will have taken over 17 years and $70 billion dollars to complete.

The reservoir behind the Three Gorges Dam will stretch for 64 kilometers (40 miles) and hold back over 5 trillion gallons of water. The waters behind the gigantic concrete wall will rise 110 meters (361 ft) and cover over 60,000 hectares (232 square miles) of land. The project will flood 140 villages, 1,600 factories, and displace over 1 million people as the waters begin to cover areas that were once a major source of agricultural production for China.

The idea for a dam to control the Yangtze was first introduced in 1919. The Chinese government decided to build the "Great Wall of the Yangtze" in order to control the annual devastating floods of the third largest river in the world and to produce electric energy to help fuel the growing Chinese economy. The hydroelectric plant within the dam is projected to produce more electricity than 15 nuclear power plants. The reservoir will also allow for large freighters and barges to have access to the interior regions of China, thus allowing for greater transport into and out of one of the world's leading industrial areas.



The Chinese Academy of Sciences has approached your team to conduct an Earth system analysis of the Three Gorges Dam project. The Academy is concerned that the analysis of the project's environmental impacts supplied by a government task force may be incomplete. Your group has been hired to carry out your own independent analysis of both possible positive and negative impacts this project may have locally, regionally, and on the nation as a whole.


Date: 1/6/2008

Scenario Images:

Three Gorges Dam
Aerial images of the Three Gorges Dam site before and after construction. This dam impounds water over a 1 million square kilometer drainage area. Larger image. Image: courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

Before and After
These are NASA satellite images of the the three gorges area (Qutang, Wu Xia, and Xiling). The top photo was taken in 2006 and the bottom image was taken in 1987. Note the difference in water coverage in both of these. More info. Image: courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

Map of the Location of the Three Gorges Dam Project
This map shows the location of the Three Gorges Dam and the path of the Yangtze River. Larger image.

Baiji- Chinese River Dolphin
The Baiji, also known as the Chinese River Dolphin, is a freshwater dolphin that is on the brink of extinction. Many experts believe that the change in the Yangtze ecosystem that the Three Gorges Dam will bring about will push this rare animal over the brink. Baiji dolphin extinction video. The following site from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has good information and links about the Baiji dolphin. Image:



Water Works- China's New Megadam (Cycle A)
A site that gives an overview of the construction and planning of the Three Gorges Dam.


Center for Global Environmental Education (Cycle A)
A description of the Yangtze River ecosystem


Discover the Yangtze (Cycle A)
This site describes the Yangtze river and the impact the dam will have upon it.


Great Wall Across the Yangtze (Cycle A)
This is the companion site to a PBS program titled, "Great Wall Across the Yangtze", that describes the project in detail and looks at the impact the dam will have both upstream and downstream


Han- History and Culture. (Cycle A)
A description of the early civilization around the Three Gorges area.


New China Megadam Avoids Building 50 Nuclear Reactors (Cycle A)
This site describes the energy benefits of the Three Gorges Dam.


Benefits and Scale of Three Gorges Dam (Cycle B)
This site, set up by the Chinese government, describes construction, benefits,plans, and impacts of the project


The Water Page (Cycle B)
This site looks at the Yangtze river. There are also links to other river systems throughout the world and some of the impacts other dams or programs have had upon them.


Three Gorges Dam Wall Completed (Cycle B)
Article from the BBC describing construction of the Three Gorges Dam


China Fisheries (Cycle C)
A description of China's major fisheries and an overview of the industry.


Sample Investigations:


Build a Dam (Cycle A)
This lesson from the Junior Engineering Technology Society has the student study a scenario regarding a community in Cambodia. Students must determine the impact a dam will have upon the local area and come up with plans to develop a sustainable dam.

The scenario is designed to be used for almost any grade level. Lessons have been developed for grades from K to 12.

Difficulty: beginner


Cost/Benefits of the Three Gorges Dam (Cycle A)
This lesson allows the student to do a cost/benefit analysis of the Three Gorges project. It helps the student learn to look at a complex issue from different perspectives
Difficulty: intermediate


Cracking Dams (Cycle A)
This site investigates the construction and destruction of dams. There are resources designed for various grade and skill levels.
Difficulty: intermediate


Dam Removal (Cycle B)
This site is a lesson designed to help students develop decision making skills. The students must evaluate the evidence to remove a dam along the Snake River.

This curriculum is designed for high school students.
Difficulty: advanced


The Lost Roman Treasure (Cycle B)
This site from the PBS program NOVA is designed to help students understand how archaeologists uncover knowledge about ancient civilizations. Chinese archaeologists have worked hard to recover artifacts of ancient civilizations that will soon be underwater as the reservoir behind the dam fills.
Difficulty: intermediate


Geoguide: Dams (Cycle C)
This site from National Geographic is a great source of information about dams, their construction, and impact upon the environment.

Click on the link for classroom activities and you will find several grade appropriate lessons on this topic.
Difficulty: beginner


Three Gorges: Should Nature or Technolgy Reign (Cycle C)
The student will use internet resources to make a decision as to the benefits and disadvantages of the Three Gorges dam project
Difficulty: beginner




  • Science
    National Science Education Standards - Science Content Standards The science content standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education.
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • Interdependence of organisms
        • Matter, energy, and organization in living systems
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Energy in the earth system
        • Geochemical cycles
      • Science and Technology (Std E)
        • Abilities of technological design
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Personal and community health
        • Population growth
        • Natural resources
        • Environmental quality
        • Natural and human-induced hazards
        • Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges
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