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Yangtze River Runs Mysteriously Red

Officials unsure the cause
Related: Earth

A ship sails across the junction of the Yangtze River (left) and the Jialin River on Sept. 6 in Chongqing, China. (ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)

By Eli MacKinnon

A stretch of China's longest river has abruptly turned the color of tomato juice, and officials say they don't know why.

Residents of the southwestern city of Chongqing first noticed that the Yangtze River, called the "golden waterway," had a spreading stain on its reputation Thursday (Sept. 6).

Though the bright-red water was concentrated around Chongqing, Southwest China's largest industrial center, it was also reported at several other points along the river, according to ABC News.

Investigators have yet to determine a cause, but the Telegraph reports that environmental officials are considering industrial pollution and silt churned up by recent upstream floods as possible sources for the color.

One natural explanation for red water that can likely be ruled out is color-producing microorganisms, according to Emily Stanley, a professor of limnology (the study of inland waters) at the University of Wisconsin.

"When water turns red, the thing a lot of people think of first is red tide," Stanley told Life's Little Mysteries. "But the algae that causes red tide is a marine group and not a freshwater group, so it's highly, highly unlikely that this is a red-tide-related phenomenon."

Fresh water does occasionally turn blood-red for biological reasons (a lake that turned red during a drought in Texas last summer led to talk of the end times), but Stanley said this is most often due to incursions of color-producing bacteria that arrive when a body of water has less oxygen than normal. Because rivers move constantly, struggling and mixing with the air above them as they go, they rarely ever get the oxygen deficiencies necessary for a life-based red dye job.

After reviewing a few images of Chongqing's shockingly red river, Stanley put her money on a man-made cause.

"It looks like a pollutant phenomenon," she said. "Water bodies that have turned red very fast in the past have happened because people have dumped dyes into them."

An industrial dye dump was in fact the explanation when an urban stretch of another Chinese river, the Jian, turned crimson last December. Investigators traced the color back to a chemical plant that they said had been illegally producing red dye for firework wrappers.

Still, Stanley says she can't rule out the other possibility officials are now reportedly investigating: an upstream influx of silt. Her instinct, though, is that red clay would be more likely.

"China is well known for having areas with a lot of steep hill sides and a lot of land use practices that promote soil erosion and soil going into rivers," she said. "You can get red-colored clays that wouldn't be a whole lot different from having a big dose of dye go in there. But if that's the cause I'd imagine there would have had to be a huge storm or a huge amount of clay go into the system."

Taking another look at the Campbell's-hued Yangtze, she said, "It looks really industrial somehow."

Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Photos: Strange Structures in China's Gobi Desert
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How Colors Got Their Symbolic Meanings

Copyright 2012 Lifes Little Mysteries, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Dennis K Therrian

@ aalblossom, red-tide is only in "SEA-WATER!"...SMH!!! "WOW!"..It's impossible. The Yangtze river is fresh water! They don't know what it is, and can't explain it; they're trying to come up with an answer, but they can't, so think before you post please! You only make yourself look un-educated!....:)

October 29 2012 at 11:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Elizabeth

Jesus is soon returning.. to gather His beloveds...! When you speak against The Almighty, I can only say as Michael exclaimed to Satan, in Jude 1 - the Lord rebuke you !

October 18 2012 at 2:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
reef77777

Yes they are! And if you know the Bible it makes it very clear that any prophet who prophecies a lie that doesn't come true must be stoned to death! GOD is powerful enough to keep His word accurate and without false prophecy and testimony so that those who want and follow truth can learn about Him through His word! This is good news for a lost and dying world!

September 18 2012 at 2:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Donald Mcdowell

Could the Prophets be right from stories of the Bible??

September 17 2012 at 9:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
reef77777

I agree what you say about people destroying the earth which is true and so sad that with all of our education we still cant pick up after ourselves or be smart enough to take care of the only planet we have to live on! But be very careful about what you speak of that you lack understanding in about someone you don't know, namely Jehovah Almighty GOD. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living GOD, whom you now revile! If you really cared you would investigate the dead sea scrolls which contain the original manuscripts of what we now have today which have not changed to this day!

September 11 2012 at 1:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Psyche

To even try & "quote"Jesus is funny as hell! You do know, the written word of the bible is hear say, of hear say, of hear say of someone else over at least 30 years after Jesus' death, then minipulated for hundreds of years by the coventant of the church, each time with a different title on their bible, to only tell you what they want you to hear, don't ya? Blind to the signs of the times we live in... SMH ppl! Ppl destroy the Earth, not phenomenons!

September 11 2012 at 12:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Psyche

To "quote"Jesus is funny as hell! You do know, the written word of the bible is hear say, of hear say, of hear say of someone else over at least 30 years, then minipulated for hundreds of years by the covent of the church to only tell you what they want you to hear... don't ya? " Blind to the signs of the times we live in" Ppl SMH!

September 11 2012 at 12:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mommy and River

It states in the bible about rivers turning red!

September 10 2012 at 9:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
B & M VAUGHN'S

Rivers turning red,birds dropping out of the sky, fish by the millions washing up on shore ,abnormal weather , pestilence,and fail crops, drought ,fires and flood and on and on sounds like a wake up call Jesus is soon returning....bottom line believe it or not it dont matter because you can change it so be ready

September 09 2012 at 10:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to B & M VAUGHN'S's comment
junk

Dogs and cats living together...Total Chaos!

September 11 2012 at 1:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
vankj

It was interesting in 2000 when I took a trip down the Yangtze they were in the process of building the dams on the Yangtze. There was an environmentalist on the trip with us and he claimed that if they don't put filtration plants along the way they are in for big problems on the Yangtze. .

September 09 2012 at 7:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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