Tan Kah Kee Award in Earth Sciences
Liu Dongsheng

Liu Dongsheng (1917-2008) was a native of Tianjin. He graduated from Geology Department of National Southwest Associated University in 1942. Liu was elected an academician of Geology Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in 1980, and a member of the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in 1991. In 1954, he took the lead and participated in comprehensive investigation on water and soil reservation in the middle reach of Yellow River, and in systematic research on cause of formation of loess, which won him State Natural Sciences Award, Second Class. Study on quaternary glacier and geological investigation on quaternary period under his leadership drove forward China's scientific expedition on high mountains. His report on the influence of upheaval of Qinghai-Xizang (Tibetan) Plateau on natural environment jointly made with Sun Honglie won State Natural Sciences Award, First Class in 1988. In 2002, he received Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. In 2003, Liu received the prestigious State Preeminent Science and Technology Award, the highest scientific prize awarded in China.


Sun Honglie and Liu Dongsheng

(Chinese Academy of Sciences)


The upheaval of the Qinghai-Xizang (Tibetan) Plateau is an event of the greatest significance in Asia during the last several million years. A number of expeditions have been carried out since the 1950's with the aim of collecting all available data concerning the formation and evolution of the Plateau, as well as the formulation of a proposal concerning the management of natural resources and protection against natural catastrophes. Based on the results of these expeditions in a series, Monographs of the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau containing 48volumes and an illustrated volume Exploring the Secrets of the Roof of the World, have been published.

Here is a summary of major achievements:

  1. A hypothesis on the evolution of the Plateau, the mechanism of the upheaval and on the characteristics of the different geophysical fields.

    Fossils are extremely rich in the plateau. More than 30 families, totaling 3000 species, have already been discovered in recent years. In the Himalaya region, fossils of Glossopteris and cold water biota have been found in the late Palaeozoic beds, while to the north of the Yarlung Zangbo River, fossils of Gugantonocles and warm water biota have been found in the Permian formation. This indicates that the Yarlung Zangbo valley lies on an important boundary of palaeontological significance.
  2. An explanatory description of the influences of the Plateau's upheaval on the environment and an understanding of the characteristics, evolution and differentiation of the environment.

    In the course of the plateau's upheaval, there occurred at least four glacial periods separated by interglacial ones. In the late Pleistocene, when the Himalaya had reached great height, the warm and wet monsoon was blocked to the south of the Plateau, resulting in cold aridity over Xizang, Permafrost appeared glaciers retreated, lake dwindled and the uniqueness of the environment strengthened. The existence of the atmospheric boundary of the Plateau takes its dynamic effect for exceed that of the actual area of the Plateau. The meteorological and climatological phenomena caused by the Plateau may even affect the central Pacific and intrude into the southern Hemisphere.
  3. An analysis of the flora and fauna, and the adaptation of plants and animals to the Plateau environment.

    The upheaval of the Plateau has retained, on the one hand, some ancient forms of the biota, while on the other, it has included the formation of new species. Already 473 species of birds and 126 of mammals have been collected. As to insects, 100 000 specimens have been collected and 2 300 species so far identified (20 new genera and 400 new species and subspecies). In southeastern Xizang specimens of the order Zorsptera have been the first recorded for China. On botanical side, the monograph, The Flora of Xizang, describes more than 5766 species of higher plants (more than 300 new species and 7 new genera) and several new species of fungi, mosses and lichens. The botanists observed that the Xizang flora originated from the Meridional Ranges and have evolved during the uplift of the Himalaya. Observations have also been made regarding the adaptations of men and animals to the environment of the Plateau. Comparative study on the physiological changes and the adaptability to the high altitude between the people from long dwelt on the plateau and those with lowland dwelt obtained some interesting results.