TAN KAH KEE Science Award

Tan Kah Kee Award in Earth Sciences

Sun Honglie (1932- ) is a native of Puyang, Henan Province. He graduated from Beijing Agricultural University with a major in soil chemistry in 1954 and received his master's degree at Shenyang Forest Soil Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in 1960. In 1991, he was elected as an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He was Vice president of CAS from 1984 to 1993. Sun is an expert on soil geography and land resources. Sun's academic career has focused on the surveying and research of agricultural natural resources and regional comprehensive development. From the 1970s to the 1990s, he directed the comprehensive scientific investigation of Qinghai-Tibet plateau by Chinese Academy of Sciences. His contribution in research on Tibetan Plateau has made China the leader in this research area. His academic contributions include stressing that natural resources should be comprehensively studied as part of an integrated system. He served as a researcher for the Geographical Science and Resources Institute within the Chinese Academy of Sciences; he later became the vice president of the Academy. Sun has also been the vice-chairman of the International Science Associated Society. He is a founding member of the Chinese Society of Natural Resources, editor-in-chief of China's Resources Encyclopaedia, and has promoted resource science as an independent scientific discipline. Currently he focuses his research on China's ecosystems and is heading the establishment of the Chinese Ecosystem Research Network (CERN). In recognition of his accomplishments in comprehensive scientific expedition, Sun was conferred CAS Science and Technology Progress Award, Special Class in 1986, and State Natural Sciences Award, First Class in 1987. Sun was awarded Ettore Majorana-Erice-Science for Peace Prize in 2009.



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.
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