It's Huge: The Three Gorges Dam quiz


By: Nathan Chandler

6 Min Quiz

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

The Three Gorges Dam wasn't just a construction project. It was a testament to a country's engineering know-how and cultural fortitude. But the dam came at a huge financial and social price. How much do you know about this enormous dam?

The Three Gorges Dam is a huge dam that was built in which country?

The dam was built on the Yangtze River in China. It is located near a town named Sandouping.


The dam was a monumental construction project. It began in 1994 and became fully operational when?

Construction started in 1994. It took the crews until 2012 -- 18 years later -- to finally make the dam an operational power station.


True or false: The dam is the world's single largest hydropower project.

Three Gorges Dam is indeed the world's biggest hydropower project. With more than 22,000 megawatts of electricity-generating potential, it provides immense power to the electrical grid.


The dam was built on the Yangtze River. What does "Yangtze" mean in English?

The Yangtze River is the Long River, and it is indeed long. It's the third longest river on the planet, and it's number one in Asia.


What's the area around the reservoir like?

There are steep mountains along the area that surrounds the river and the reservoir -- so steep that it's much easier to travel on the river than on land.


True or false: Three Gorges Dam is the world's tallest dam.

For all of its impressive features, the dam isn't the tallest. It is about 180 meters tall. But there are taller dams, such as the 300m monstrosity called Nurek Dam, which is in Tajikistan.


Three Gorges is not the only dam on the Yangtze River. How many TOTAL dams are there on this nearly 4,000-mile-long river?

It's a crazy long river, but there are just two major dams, Three Gorges Dam and Gezhouba Dam, the latter of which is much smaller and was completed in 1988.


The Three Gorges Dam and its reservoir displaced a lot of Chinese citizens. How many people were displaced by the project?

Gobs of people had to move -- or were forced to move -- in order to make way for the project. About 1.3 million people were displaced.


The dam is an impressive feat of construction, and it was dangerous to build. About how many people died during construction?

Given the dam's size and the long duration of the project, maybe the numbers aren't as dire as you'd expect -- about 100 people were killed during construction.


As soon as the reservoir was filled, what did authorities notice?

As soon as water started piling up behind the dam, hairline cracks began appearing in the dam. However, experts say the concrete is up to snuff and won't fail under normal circumstances.


Which problem may eventually render the dam obsolete?

The dam traps unknown amounts of silt, or river sediment, behind its massive structures. Unless the authorities can control the silt, water volume will drop and the dam will be rendered useless.


How many cities were flooded by the project?

Thirteen cities met watery ends thanks to Three Gorges Dam. Joining them were 140 towns and more than 1,300 villages… but who's counting?


The rising reservoir displaced 1.3 million people. How long is this huge reservoir?

The dam backed up river water into a very long reservoir. It's about 410 miles long and, in some places, it's a whopping 575 feet deep.


It's hard to explain just how big the dam really is. It caused water levels to rise how much?

Once the dam was complete, water began rising in the reservoir, to the tune of about 300 feet on the nearby shoreline. In doing so, it flooded more than 1,000 known archaeological sites.


The government offered money to many of the 1.3 million people displaced by the dam. What happened to a lot of that money?

This is China, right? A lof the money was looted by corrupt officials looking to enrich themselves at the expense of displaced citizens. So you lost your home, but hey, water skiing!


The dam is immense. It is about how wide?

It is about a mile and a half wide. It's also more than 600 feet tall, making it roughly five times bigger than the Hoover Dam in the United States.


The dam features a ship lift that helps ships bypass the dam. How long does it take for ships to go through the sophisticated lift area?

The huge ship lift can hoist ships in just 40 minutes. That's much faster than the lock system, which takes about 4 hours.


During peak construction, the dam was a major source of employment. How many people were working on the dam?

A small city's worth of people. -- about 26,000 -- were working on the dam during peak construction. Even with all of those bodies, it took nearly two decades to finish the work.


The reservoir is so big that it routinely causes which problem?

The reservoir's rising waters cause instability in surrounding lands. This triggers massive, dangerous landslides.


True or false: The dam cost about $25 billion to design and build.

The rigid Chinese government doesn't reveal unflattering information about landmark projects. Some experts say the $25 billion projection is far too low.


A portage system is being built to help what kind of transportation skirt around the dam?

The dam and its reservoir present huge obstacles for railroads. Two portage systems for trains will help railroads operate without having to go hundreds of miles out of their way.


The dam provides a lot of electrical power. It can satisfy about what percentage of the entire country's power needs?

When it was first built, people thought the dam might be able to provide China with about 10% of the country's power needs. But as China's power demands have exploded, that number has dropped to about 3% of total demand... or even lower.


True or false: The dam holds back an incredible (and potentially dangerous) amount of water. Fortunately, it would survive a nuclear strike.

Why the long faces, terrorists? Oh, the dam didn't break and drown millions of people? That's because it's so big that even a nuclear bomb wouldn't cause a catastrophic torrent of reservoir water to cascade through the countryside.


How does the government plan to prevent sedimentation from building up behind the dam?

To prevent excessive sedimentation from rendering the dam useless, the Chinese government plans to simply build more dams upstream. Some of the dams are already completed.


True or false: The dam is so big that it slowed the rotation of the Earth.

It sounds like urban legend, but it's true -- the damming of the river slowed Earth's rotation by about .06 microseconds. That's because the dam is slowing down such an incredible volume of water.


How does this change in Earth's rotation affect the rest of us?

The Earth's rotation actually changes fairly often, either due to crazy construction projects or friction caused by Donald Trump's heavily sprayed hair. Either way, the change in rotation won't kill us. Probably.


As compensation for their displacement, the government offered about 50 yuan per month to some of the affected people. That was about how much money in U.S. dollars?

Some people got the equivalent of about $7 per month for the "inconvenience" of watching their cities being flooded and homes washed away. Of course, many people got no compensation at all.


The Three Gorges Dam was a long time coming. When was it first proposed?

It wasn't exactly an ancient idea. It was first proposed by Sun Yat-sen in 1919. He was the first leader of the People's Republic of China.


True or false: China has more dams than any other country on Earth.

China loves dams and hydroelectric power -- it has more than 86,000 dams and plans to build many more. Environmentalists say these dams could cause catastrophic effects to animal and plant species, not to mention humans.


Some scientists say that the dam directly caused the extinction of what?

A rare type of Chinese river dolphin couldn't handle the disruptions caused by the huge structure. The creature is now believed to be extinct.


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