China Altay

Date of Submission: 29/01/2010
Criteria: (vii)(viii)(ix)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region
Ref.: 5533
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party



- Kanas National Nature Reserve: N48 58 E87 18

- Two Rivers' Headwaters Nature Reserve of Altay: N47 30 E89 50

The Altay Mountains extend across China, Kazakstan, Mongolia and Russia in a NW-SE direction. The whole length is 1650 km and the width is about 130-200 km, with an elevation of 1000-3000 m. The altitude of the highest Youyi Peak is 4,374 m and it is located at the boundary of China, Russia and Mongolia. The China Altay is the south slope of the middle segment which extends about 500 km and takes up one third of the total length of the Altay Mountains. Two great rivers originate in the China Altay. One of them is the Ergis River and it is the headstream of the international Erbi River which flows into the Arctic Ocean. The second one is the Ulungur River which is the second longest land-locked river of Xinjiang, and it is the main run-off of the second largest land-locked lake - Ulungur Lake of Xinjiang.

Several glaciations occurred to the China Altay during the Quaternary and multiple glacial erosion features and accumulation landforms were created. Kanas region is located on the south slope of Youyi peak which is the main peak of Altay Mountain. This region is the largest center of glaciation in the Altay Mountains and it has recorded the complete sequence of the glacial geography since the mid-Pleistocene. Key features of the glacial geomorphology are as follows: The scale of modern glaciers is tremendous. There are 210 glaciers with a total area of 400 km2 in the Kanas region which accounts for nearly half of the total area of Youyi peak and is the largest among the whole Altay Mountains. The types of glaciers are varied and typical, such as converging valley glaciers, dendritic valley glaciers, and ice caps. There are three prominent groups of cirques, one totally covered by plants, hollow cirques, and modern glaciers. Together, they reflect the stage and character of the glacial shrinkage and vegetation expansion. Nunataks and knife-edges, as well as huge glacial grooves, have widely developed, and the bedrocks of the glacial pavement and sheep-back rocks (roches moutonnee) outcrop frequently. The glacial lakes are distributed like lines of pearls. The relatively large ones are Kanas, White, Black and Double Lakes, They reflect the stage and extent of the glacial shrinkage. Glacial sediments are widely spread and include moraine hillocks and glacial boulders.

The Altay Mountains underwent long-term tectonic movement, including complicated fold and faults in which huge granite blocks were intruded. Thus, geologic wonders formed of gigantic, intricately carved and unusually shaped rocks have been formed by long-term surface weathering and fluviation. At the Ergis headwaters, there are pyramidal crests, large domes and densely honeycombed cliffs. Together with the sparse taiga forest, thermal springs and river valley, the Altay granite landscape has been constructed to result in a vivid landscape.

The nominated heritage possesses important biodiversity. The site is located in Udvardy Biogeographical Province - "Altay Highlands" and also represents the Altay-Sayan Montane Forests within the system of 200 global bioregions recognized by WWF. This region has been the main habitat for many endemic and endangered plants and animals. The nominated area contains over 1,400 vascular plants species, 193 moss species, 205 lichens species, and 150 macro-fungi species, including endangered plants of Orchis 1atifolia(CITES 2007), Epipogium aphyllum(CITES 2007)etc. and endemic plants of Paeonia sinjiangensis, Salix burqinenisis etc. The nominated area contains over 360 species of vertebrate, 1167 species of invertebrate, including endangered animals of Ursus arctos(IUCN 2009,CITES 2007), Aquila chrysaetos(IUCN 2009,CITES 2007)etc. and endemic animals of Rana altaica, Vipera ursini renardi etc. The major ecological formations in nominated area include Form. Pinus sibirica, Form. Picea obovata, Form. Abies sibirica, Form. Salix spp., Form. Betula pendula,and Form. Populus tremula.

The nominated area, China Altay, involves many kinds of natural wonders, including glaciers, snowfields, high mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, grasslands, wetlands, granite geomorphology and so on. The glaciers on Youyi peak in the Kanas region are grand and spectacular. Several ice tongues descend the peaks. They are majestic and can be regarded as wonders. There are impressive lakes such as Kanas, White, Double and Black lakes, as well as the winding Dragon, Moon and Fairy valleys along the Kanas river. The verdant forests along the banks are reflected in the rivers, forming an essential landscape element in Kanas. The taiga contrasts with the snow-capped mountains in the spring and in summer, it is reflected in the water, in shades of green. In the fall, yellow and red colors are interwoven as the leaves change their hue. In the winter mists, the branches reflect like silver jewelry in the icy water. In spring, the meadows turn green and the flowers add their colors. Herds and flocks, and clusters of yurts turn the alpine pastures into harmonious natural and human mosaic. Kanas Lake is famous for its changing colors. The morning mists, changing skies and evening shadows enrich the natural landscape. The huge granite boulders remind the viewers of fantastic sculptures and mythical figures. Together with the valleys, thermal springs, forests and grasslands, the nominated areas encompass the splendours of the granite geography of the whole Altay Mountains. The native Kazak and Mongolian Tuwa people migrate among the wetlands and the grasslands, living their special folk customs, such as Arken spiccato singing, horse racing, falconry, wrestling, archery, catching sheep and chasing girls. The historical remnants of the nomadic culture, including stone men, pictograms and ancient graves, have also been preserved.

Two nominated districts both represent the natural geographic character and ecosystem of the south slope of the Altay Mountains, but they can not be replaced by each other. Kanas National Nature Reserve is the largest center of glaciation and the most beautiful scenic region in the Altay Mountains. Two Rivers' Headwaters Nature Reserve is the typical shaped rock granite landforms of Altay mountains, and is also the headstream of Ergis River.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

China Altay possesses a diversity of landscape features, such as sublime glaciers and snow-covered peaks, colorful alpine meadows, grand granitic natural sculptures, dynamic atmospheric conditions, picturesque landscapes of rivers and lakes, and charming nomadic life and folk customs. These features combine to form unique aesthetic values that are second-to-none. The area is a remarkable exemplification for the aesthetic values of integrated natural and human mountainous landscape. These landscapes are of multiple types and are characterized by high qualities, great heterogeneity stunning vistas and rich folk cultures.

The Altay Mountains are the key accumulation zone of glaciers in the world and the glaciers are extensive and suffer no human interference. Kanas region, one of the nominated sites, is where the south slope of Youyi peak is located. The glacial area in this region is larger than that within Russia or Mongolia. The glaciers in this region are the most prominent representatives of the Altay Mountain glaciers and are the key to research on the Quaternary glacial movements of the Altay Mountains. Both modern and well-preserved ancient glaciers remnants exist. The area can be regarded as an encyclopaedia and natural museum of mountainous glacial geography. The post-Quaternary glacial evolution has been completely recorded in the nominated sites and is invaluable information for understanding the impact that the global warming has on the mountainous ecological system. Thus, this region has high scientific value for research on glacial geography and climate change.

The nominated heritage is a typical representative of the south slope of the Altay Mountains ecosystem, and the natural distribution zone of Siberia flora and fauna reach their southernmost limit in this region. The nominated area is the ecotone between the temperate desert and Siberia fauna and flora, and it is a region where flora and fauna have evolved distinctively.

Therefore, according to geology, ecology and esthetics, the nominated heritage possesses outstanding universal values.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The two nominated districts of China Altay are Chinese National Nature Reserves or Provincial Natural Reserves, and are under the protection of national or provincial laws. Two nominated districts are large enough (including core zones and buffer zones) to encompass important natural processes. Thus, the ecological system has the continuity and integrity which are necessary for the protection and natural evolution of the nominated area. There is distinct geographical borderline between the core zone and the buffer zone in each of the nominated districts. To determine these borders, the borderlines of existing protected areas have been consulted in most cases. All these regions are now under strict protection. Because the nominated area is on the northwestern boundary of China and its economy has been based primarily on the subsistence of small populations, the nominated area has suffered few human disturbances. Naturalness and originality have been well preserved. Human beings and their activities have rarely disrupted the natural processes and the small resident population has retained its traditional ways so that the natural and human processes are currently in harmony.

Comparison with other similar properties

(1) According to Geological World Heritage: a Global Framework (2005) and the newly- inscribed World Natural Heritages from 2006 to 2009, There are 6 properties have been inscribed on the World Heritage List for outstanding universal value for their glaciers, and 9 properties with significant mountains values, but which are inscribed on the World Heritage List for other reasons. Comparison with those 15 properties, the nominated area is located on the hinterland of Eurasia, which is the largest concentrative distribution glaciers of Altay Mountains, it is the typical representative of inland mountain glaciers within the world's mid-latitude and high latitude.

(2) Comparison with World Heritage sites that have exceptional natural beauty at the same latitude. From the perspective of natural beauty, there are 5 World Heritage sites that meet criteria vii at 45°~55°N. They have glaciers, snowfields, rivers, lakes, forests and grasslands, which could be compared with the Kanas. Compared with the previous 5 properties, the nominated area represents the unique natural scenery of Altay Mountains, especially colourful mountain forests and meadows combine with picturesque landscapes of rivers and lakes, which is incomparable.

(3) Comparison with the World Heritage Site "Golden Altay" in Russia. "Golden Altay" represents the geographical character and ecosystems of the north slope of the Altay Mountains. While the nominated China Altay is the representative of the south side. The two regions represent an integrated ecosystems of Altay Mountains. The nominated area of China Altay is an indispensable part of the whole Altay Mountainous.

 (4)Comparison with the other sites of Altay Mountains within Kazakhstan and Mogolia. Mongolia Altay is located on the north slope of Altay. Both of the two sites within China and Kazakhstanand are located on the south side, but the nominated area includes the south slope of Youyi peak which is the highest peak of Altay Mountain. Other sites of the Altay Mountains can not compare with the nominated China Altay on glacier number, scale, ice volume, or diversity of landscape.