Please wait a minute...
Journal of Arid Land  2015, Vol. 7 Issue (1): 37-45    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-014-0072-y
Research Articles     
Water in the Mogao Grottoes, China: where it comes from and how it is driven
HongShou LI1,2, WanFu WANG1,2*, HongTao ZHAN1, Fei QIU1, QingLin GUO1,2, GuoBin ZHANG1,2
1 The Conservation Institute of Dunhuang Academy, State Administration for Cultural Heritage, Dunhuang 736200, China;
2 Key Scientific Research Base of Conservation for Ancient Murals, Dunhuang Academy, State Administration for Cultural Heritage, Dunhuang 736200, China
Download:   PDF(400KB)
Export: BibTeX | EndNote (RIS)      

Abstract  The Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes in China was designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1987 and is famous for its cultural relics. Water is the most active factor that harms the relics in the caves as it damages the grotto murals and painted sculptures. Thus, determining the water sources and driving forces of water movement is a key issue for protecting these cultural relics. These issues have troubled relics protectors for a long time. In this study, the authors chose a representative cave in the Mogao Grottoes and, by completely sealing the cave to make a closed system, measured the water vapor from the surrounding rock. This was accomplished by installing a condensation–dehumidification temperature–humidity control system for the collection of water vapor. The results show that there is continuous evaporation from the deep surrounding rock into the cave. The daily evaporation capacity is determined to be 1.02 g/(d•m2). The water sources and driving forces of water movement were further analyzed according to the character of the water evaporation and by monitoring the temperature and humidity of the surrounding rock. It was found that the water vapor in the cave derives from phreatic water. Moreover, the yearly fluctuation of temperature in the surrounding rock and geothermal forces are the basic powers responsible for driving phreatic evaporation. Under the action of the yearly temperature fluctuations, decomposition and combination of bound water acts as a “pump” that drives phreatic water migration and evaporation. When the temperature rises, bound water decomposes and evaporates; and when it falls, the rock absorbs moisture. This causes the phreatic water to move from deep regions to shallow ones. Determining the source and dynamic foundation of the water provides a firm scientific basis for protecting the valuable cultural relics in the caves.

Received: 01 November 2013      Published: 10 February 2015

We gratefully acknowledge funding for this work from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41363009), the Gansu Province Science and Technology Plan (1308RJZF290) and a project of the Dunhuang Academy (201306).

Corresponding Authors:
Cite this article:

HongShou LI, WanFu WANG, HongTao ZHAN, Fei QIU, QingLin GUO, GuoBin ZHANG. Water in the Mogao Grottoes, China: where it comes from and how it is driven. Journal of Arid Land, 2015, 7(1): 37-45.

URL:     OR

Agnew N. 2004. Conservation of ancient sites on the Silk Road. In: The 2nd International Conference on the Conservation of Grotto Sites. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 3−30.

Cheng G Q, Su B B, Zhao L L, et al. 2005. Salting simulative test on wall painting plaster of Cave 85 in Mogao Grottoes. Dunhuang Research, (4): 62−66. (in Chinese)

Ci L J. 2011. Desertification of extra-arid desert. Chinese Science Bulletin, 56: 2616−2626. (in Chinese)

Fayer M J. 2000. UNSAT-H Version 3.0: unsaturated soil water and heat flow model—theory, user manual and examples. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Washington, 331.

Guo Q L. 2009. Origin of water and salts responsible for wall paintings disease at Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes. PhD Dissertation. Lanzhou: Lanzhou University. (in Chinese)

Guo Q L, Wang X D, Xue P, et al. 2009. Research on spatial distribution and relations of salinity and moisture content inside rock mass of low-layer caves in Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes. Chinese Journal of Rock Mechanics and Engineering, 28(S2): 3769−3776. (in Chinese)

Herrera L K, Borgne S L, Videla H A. 2008. Modern methods for materials characterization and surface analysis to study the effects of biodeterioration and weathering on buildings of cultural heritage. International Journal of Architectural Heritage, 3: 74−91.

Li H S. 2005. The research in garden's water at Mogao Grottoes. Dunhuang Research, (4): 92−100. (in Chinese)

Li H S. 2006. The application of the dissipative structure theory to the water consumption of gardens at the Mogao Grottoes. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 26: 3454−3462. (in Chinese)

Li H S, Wang W F, Zhang G B, et al. 2009a. The primary proof—testing of the evapotranspiration dissipative structure in the extreme dry area. Research of Soil and Water Conservation, 16: 200−204, 209 (in Chinese)

Li H S, Wang W F, Zhang G B, et al. 2009b. The influence of water system on microclimate of Mogao Grottoes. Dunhuang Research, (3): 110−13. (in Chinese)

Li H S, Wang W F, Guo Q L, et al. 2009c. Mechanism analysis on condensation water in arid area at Mogao Grottoes. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 26: 3198−3205. (in Chinese)

Li H S, Wang W F, Zhan H T. 2010a. New judgment on the source of soil water in extremely dry zone. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 1: 1−7.

Li H S, Wang W F, Zhang G B. 2010b. Moisture interaction between soil and atmosphere in extreme dry area. Journal of Earth Science Environment, 32: 183−188. (in Chinese)

Li H S, Wang W F, Zhang G B, et al. 2010c. Measurement of deep buried phreatic water evaporation in extremely arid area. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 4: 6798−6803. (in Chinese)

Li H S, Wang W F, Zhang G B, et al. 2011. GSPAC water movement in

extremely dry area. Journal of Arid Land, 3: 141−149.

Li H S, Wang W F, Zhan H T. 2013. Applying isolation method study soil water source in the extreme dry area. Arid Land Geography, 36: 92−100. (in Chinese)

Li H S, Wang W F. 2014. Determination and analysis of phreatic water evaporation in extra-arid dune region. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 34: 116–122.

Li H S, Wang W F, Zhan H T, et al. 2014. Application of a greenhouse air-conditioning method to simulate take-back of rainfall in an extremely arid area. Acta Ecologica Sinica. doi: 10.5846/stxb201301290185. (in Chinese)

Liu R Z, Zhang B J, Zhang H, et al. 2011. Deterioration of Yungang Grottoes: diagnosis and research. Journal of Cultural Heritage, 12: 494−499.

Qin Q S, Zheng C X, Wang W F, et al. 2002. An estimate of the limits of transpiration for irrigation trees in front of the grottoes. Dunhuang Research, (4): 97−101. (in Chinese)

Sterflinger K. 2010. Fungi: their role in deterioration of cultural heritage. Fungal Biology Reviews, 24: 47−55.

Wang J Y. 2005. The investigation on the current condition of Mogao Grottoes and the classification of diseases in exist. Dunhuang Research, (6): 94−98. (in Chinese)

Wang X X, Zhang M Q, Zeng Z Z, et al. 2000. Engineering properties of surrounding rocks of Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang. Chinese Journal of Rock Mechanics and Engineering, 19: 756−761.

Wang X D, Guo Q L, Li Z X, et al. 2010. Research on permeability of surrounding rock at Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes. Rock and Soil Mechanics, 31: 3139−3144. (in Chinese)

Wang W F, Ma X, Ma Y T, et al. 2010. Seasonal dynamics of airborne fungi in different caves of the Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang, China. International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation, 64: 461−466.

Yan L, Zhang H Y, Lu Q F, et al. 2008. Isothermal model for moisture adsorption and desorption of plaster layers of wall-paintings inside grottoes. Dunhuang Research, (6): 58−62. (in Chinese)

Yang S L, Wang X D, Guo Q L. 2009. Preliminary analysis of moisture distribution in cliff rocks of the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang. Hydrogeology and Engineering Geology, 35: 94−97. (in Chinese)

Yard?m Bülent, Tunçoku S S. 2008. Dampness problems in a historic house in ?zmir, Turkey. International Journal of Architectural Heritage, 3: 1−23.

Zhang M Q, Zhang H Y, Zeng Z Z, et al. 1995. The mechanisms of efflorescent disaster of wall-paintings in Mogao Grottoes. Journal of Lanzhou University: Natural Sciences, 31: 96−101. (in Chinese)

Zhang G B, Xue P, Hou W F, et al. 2005. The study on mi-cro−environment of the cave affected by the visitors of the Mogao Grottoes. Dunhuang Research, (4): 83−86. (in Chinese)

Zhang M Q, Wang X D, Jia N, et al. 2006. Analysis of water environment characteristics of the Daquan River in Dunhuang. Journal of Lanzhou University (Natural Sciences), 42: 7−10. (in Chinese)

Zheng C X, Qin Q S, Wang W F. 2001. A study on the water infiltration of the woodland nearby the caves of Dunhuang Mogao grottoes. Dunhuang Research, (3): 173−177. (in Chinese)
No related articles found!