Winter in northern China brings a beautiful snow-covered landscape to Hulun Lake in Hulunbuir, Inner Mongolia. However, the picturesque scene belies the challenges and hazards that Xie Zhilei, director of a water environment monitoring division in Hohhot, faces as he takes water samples from the lake in January.
As the biggest lake in North China, the team must set up multiple checkpoints to obtain a comprehensive view of the lake’s water conditions, from the banks to the center. “Things are easier in the summer, when we can just take a boat,” Xie notes. However, with the lake typically frozen from November to April, Xie and his colleagues must drive on the ice to reach the deeper parts of the lake.
Driving on the frozen lake is not without its dangers. “The surface is rugged and sharp here and there, so it might slice open the tires,” Xie warns. Additionally, the team must be cautious and avoid the “green ditch,” a term used by locals to describe precarious ice that is not thoroughly frozen and has a thin layer of ice with visible water underneath. “Once you drive on it, you’ll run a big risk of dropping into the lake,” Xie explains.
Despite the dangers, years of experience have allowed Xie to navigate potential hazards and successfully collect water samples. The “green ditches” are mostly formed due to spring mouths at the bottom of the lake, where the temperature of the water is relatively high, Xie notes. Working with the lake’s management committee, Xie and his team can predict the locations of the “green ditches” and avoid them.
To further minimize risk, the team is divided into two cars that drive at least 200 meters apart. In the event of an accident, rescue work can be carried out immediately from the other vehicle. “Safety is our top priority,” Xie emphasizes.
Despite the challenges, Xie and his team are committed to collecting water samples to monitor the health of Hulun Lake’s ecosystem. As one of the largest freshwater lakes in China, Hulun Lake plays an important role in maintaining the ecological balance of the region. By monitoring the water quality and conditions of the lake, Xie and his team can provide valuable data to support efforts to protect and preserve this vital resource.
In addition to ensuring the safety of the team, Xie and his colleagues must also be careful to collect accurate and representative samples of the lake’s water. The samples are then analyzed to determine the presence of pollutants and other substances that could impact the health of the lake’s ecosystem.
Despite the challenges and hazards, Xie remains committed to his work. “I feel a great sense of responsibility to protect the environment,” he says. “By monitoring the water quality of Hulun Lake, we can help protect this important resource for future generations.”
Xie Zhilei’s job requires him to brave the harsh and unforgiving environment of the Hulun Lake in the north of Inner Mongolia, China. As the director of a water environment monitoring division, he must conduct water quality checks on the lake once a month, regardless of the weather conditions. This task is particularly challenging during the winter months, when the lake is covered in ice and the temperature drops to a bone-chilling 40 degrees below zero.
Despite the difficulties, Xie is passionate about his work and understands its significance. “The freezing of the surface will result in a reduction of oxygen in the water, which could affect fish and other living creatures in the lake,” he explains. By monitoring the water quality, Xie and his team can help preserve the ecology of the lake and ensure its sustainability.
To conduct their water quality checks, Xie and his team must navigate the treacherous frozen surface of the lake. This involves driving on the ice to reach the deeper ends of the lake, which can be up to 1.5 meters thick. Xie and his team must also be wary of the “green ditches,” areas of thin ice that are not completely frozen and can pose a significant risk to their safety.
Once they reach a water sampling point, Xie and his team must drill through the ice to access the water below. The manual work is demanding and exhausting, particularly in the extreme cold, but Xie and his team follow stringent protocols to ensure the accuracy and reliability of their water samples. For example, the samples must be taken about 50 centimeters below the water surface to avoid interference from drifting leaves or ship oil residue.
The lake covers an area of more than 220,000 hectares and was one of the first lakes in the country to undergo water ecology evaluation. Xie and his team play an essential role in monitoring the water quality of the lake and ensuring its sustainability. As Xie explains, “We’re more like a health checkup department. Once the problem is spotted, other related departments will come in to intervene.”
Despite the challenges of his job, Xie has come to appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature. He enjoys studying satellite images to plan the routes of his expeditions and reviewing his field trips online to enhance his perception of the surrounding environment. Xie is also fascinated by the stunning landscapes surrounding the lake, which provide a breathtaking backdrop to his work.
Xie’s passion for environmental protection began during his undergraduate studies in water engineering at Hefei University of Technology in East China’s Anhui province. Inspired by the government’s emphasis on preserving nature and the demand for talent in the field of water engineering, Xie pursued his master’s and doctoral degrees in lake ecology at the Inner Mongolia University in Hohhot. Today, Xie is proud to play a vital role in protecting the environment and ensuring the sustainability of one of China’s largest and most important lakes.
Xie, who is passionate about environmental protection, finds the connection between a water system, hydrology, climate, and ecology fascinating. He believes that taken as a whole, these elements can provide a deeper understanding of the importance of water quality monitoring. Xie’s dedication to the field of environmental science led him to pursue a career in water engineering, which has taken him on a journey across China’s vast landscapes.
After Xie graduated from Inner Mongolia University, he received lucrative job offers from economically developed cities such as Beijing, Shenzhen, and Nanjing. However, he chose to stay in his hometown, where he had already studied three of the four major lakes that were highlighted by the government for ecological restoration. Xie saw this as an opportunity to fulfill a sense of mission while leveraging his expertise in related theories to conduct fieldwork. His decision was also partly out of nostalgia for his hometown.
In order to ensure the surface water environmental quality monitoring data is factual, accurate, and comprehensive, the central government and the autonomous region have built a number of monitoring stations. Xie’s major responsibility is to sort out and analyze mass data from those stations across the autonomous region. “We need to make sense of those abstract data,” Xie says, emphasizing the importance of the data analysis process.
Analyzing data from the monitoring stations can be challenging, as some data discrepancies might be temporary due to extreme weather like heavy rain or complex geological conditions, while others are a result of human activities. Xie and his team have to carefully examine the data to differentiate between the two. They also have to consider the fact that some enterprises may stealthily discharge pollutants into the water, which could potentially impact the water’s ecology.
To ensure that water quality is preserved, Xie’s team conducts regular water sampling once a month, regardless of the weather conditions. This involves drilling through the ice, which can be up to 1.5 meters thick, to reach the water sampling points. Xie’s team follows stringent protocols during water sampling to ensure that the data collected is accurate and reliable.
Despite the challenges of working in harsh natural environments, Xie has grown to enjoy his work. He finds it rewarding to connect with nature and appreciate the beauty of water distribution through satellite images. Xie’s passion for environmental protection and his expertise in water engineering continue to drive him forward as he strives to preserve China’s natural resources for future generations
“Xie believes that real-time data analysis could lead to a significant increase in the main indicators of surface water. He stresses the importance of continuous monitoring of surface water to preserve the ecological balance of aquatic ecosystems. To achieve this, his team analyzes data from automatic monitoring stations.
The data analyzed from monitoring stations play a vital role in preserving the water environment. Xie and his colleagues report any discrepancies immediately to law enforcement departments. They ensure that any enterprise or organization responsible for the pollutant discharge improve their sewage treatment process. This reduces the concentration of pollutants discharged into the water, and as a result, the water quality improves.
Although monitoring stations have been built by the central government and the autonomous region, they can only be installed in areas with access to electricity, water, good transportation and the internet. This means that field research is still necessary. Xie and his team conduct field research to supplement the data collected from the monitoring stations.
In selecting their subjects for field research, Xie’s team has to consider the water availability of the region. The eastern part of the region enjoys relatively rich water resources, while the west is relatively dry. Therefore, they selectively choose subjects for their research.
Xie is determined to preserve the ecological balance of aquatic ecosystems by monitoring and analyzing data from monitoring stations. He is also committed to carrying out field research to supplement the data collected from the monitoring stations. His work in analyzing data is helping to identify those enterprises that stealthily discharge pollutants into the water. He and his colleagues work closely with law enforcement departments to ensure that any such enterprise improves its sewage treatment process.
Xie’s work highlights the importance of preserving the water environment through data analysis and continuous monitoring. His team’s work in collecting data from monitoring stations and conducting field research will help identify any discrepancies and ensure that the surface water quality is maintained. By doing so, they are playing a significant role in preserving the ecological balance of aquatic ecosystems.
Xie Zhilei, a young environmental scientist working in Inner Mongolia, has gained considerable experience in delivering environmental quality reports and drafting construction plans for ecological and environmental monitoring systems. Through his work, he has come to understand the interconnectedness of hydrology, climate, and ecology, which has made his work all the more interesting.
Despite receiving job offers from economically developed cities, Xie chose to stay in Inner Mongolia. He felt a sense of mission since three out of the four lakes he studied in his hometown were highlighted by the government for strengthening ecological restoration. He believed that his knowledge of related theories would pave the way for him to conduct fieldwork, and he was also partly motivated by nostalgia.
Xie’s primary responsibility is to sort and analyze mass data from the monitoring stations across the autonomous region to ensure that surface water environmental quality monitoring data is factual, accurate, and comprehensive. Xie and his team need to make sense of the abstract data, which can be affected by extreme weather, complex geological conditions, and human activities.
Xie and his team conduct field research despite the existence of monitoring stations, which can only be built on sites with access to electricity, water, good transportation, and the internet. Xie explains that the eastern part of the region enjoys relatively rich water resources, while the west is relatively dry. As a result, they choose their subjects selectively.
Through his work, Xie has become a backbone of the division and takes on a significant amount of important environmental monitoring work. Tian Yongli, head of Inner Mongolia’s general environmental monitoring station, praises Xie for laying a solid technical foundation for pollution prevention and water improvement. Xie’s work has also enabled him to see the positive changes in the local environment over the years, such as a long-dried riverbed near his home in Tongliao starting to have water flow through it in 2022.
In addition to his environmental monitoring work, Xie also plans the routes of his expeditions by examining satellite images of water distribution. He enjoys seeing the water sites tucked away in stunning landscapes and appreciates nature’s wonder. Despite the harsh natural environment that comes with the territory, Xie has come to enjoy his work, which contributes to preserving the ecology of lakes and rivers in Inner Mongolia.
Over the past five years, the improvement in water quality has been apparent with no more strange odors or colors present in the water, states Xie. Hulun Lake in particular has undergone a significant transformation with expanded water area, recovered wetland ecology, and improved biodiversity. The Hulun Lake National Nature Reserve Administration reports that the lake’s water area has increased by nearly 50,000 hectares, reaching approximately 224,400 hectares, over the last decade. The lake’s water volume has also reached a near-record high of 13.97 billion cubic meters.
The wetland ecology of the once-dwindling Hulun Lake has gradually recovered, and the biodiversity in the area has continued to improve. Since 2016, the number of bird species recorded in the area has increased from 333 to 345, and the number of mammal species has risen from 35 to 38. Xie recognizes the vital role of steady monitoring and accurate scientific analysis in establishing environmental protection standards and making major environmental protection decisions.
Xie feels fortunate to be a guardian of lucid waters and lush mountains. He has realized how the meticulous monitoring and scientific analysis conducted in his work contribute significantly to protecting the environment. As Xie’s work experience grows, he has managed to produce monthly environmental quality reports on key lakes in Inner Mongolia, taking a leading role in drafting the construction plan for an ecological and environmental monitoring system for the Yellow River basin in the region.
According to Tian Yongli, head of Inner Mongolia’s general environmental monitoring station, Xie’s work laid a solid technical foundation for pollution prevention and water improvement, and Xie has become a backbone of the division, taking on a large amount of important environmental monitoring work. Xie and his colleagues have identified certain enterprises that stealthily discharged pollutants through data obtained from the water stations, and immediately reported the problem to law enforcement departments.
Although the monitoring stations can only be built on sites with access to electricity, water, good transportation, and the internet, Xie and his colleagues still need to conduct field research. The western part of the region is relatively dry, while the eastern part has relatively rich water resources, so they choose their subjects selectively. Xie’s sense of mission is strengthened by the government’s highlighting of Hulun Lake, Daihai Lake, and three other lakes for ecological restoration.