Largest River in China Mysteriously Turns Red

For a river known as the “golden watercourse,” red is a strange color to see.

Yet that’s the shade turning up in the Yangtze River and officials have no idea why.

The red began appearing in the Yangtze, the longest and largest river in China and the third longest river in the world, yesterday near the city of Chongquing, where the Yangtze connects to the Jialin River.

The Yangtze, called “golden” because of the heavy rainfall it receives year-round, runs through Chongqing, Southwest China’s largest industrial and commercial center, also known as the “mountain city” because of the hills and peaks which have many buildings and factories stand.

Nobody is quite sure what caused the color change, but residents carefully crept down to the riverbanks on Thursday and Friday to save some of the red river water in bottles, likely for posterity’s sake. When they lifted their bottles from their water, Chinese citizens were surprised to find the water was completely opaque and had a similar orange-red appearance as tomato juice.

Even though the water doesn’t look too safe, the new beet-red color of the river didn’t stop people from going about their business workers who rely on the Yangtze as their main source of income, including fishermen, continued about their daily work as if nothing were unusual. Officials are investigating the river’s transformation, as nobody is quite sure what caused it.

Emily Stanley, a limnologist (study of freshwater science) at the University of Wisconsin, said it’s possible microorganisms could have caused the change in the river.

“When water turns red, the thing a lot of people think of first is red tide,” Stanley told LiveScience. “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.”

It wouldn’t be surprising to believe pollution is the cause. The Yangtze River “has suffered from industrial pollution, agricultural run-off, siltation, and loss of wetland and lakes,” which have made flooding considerably worse, especially given the heavy rainfall in that region of China. Even though some sections of the Yangtze are currently protected as nature reserves, last December, the Jian River, which connects to the Yangtze, had turned red “after becoming polluted by a powerful dye.” Reports say the dye was dumped into a storm drain in the city of Luoyang by two illegal dye workshops. The factories were eventually raided by officials and their machinery was disassembled.

The Yangtze’s redness was most pronounced near Chongqing, but Chinese residents have also reported the red water at several other points. Officials are still investigating the cause.

Source: ABC News