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Scientists have suspected that the water is a result from high, nearby mountains, and that melt water from those mountains had slipped beneath the basin. “This is a terrifying amount of water,” said professor Li Yan, who led the study at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital, the South China Morning Post reported. “Never before have people dared to imagine so much water under the sand. Our definition of desert may have to change.”
The Tarim Basin is the world’s largest landlocked basins and also home to China’s biggest desert, the Takla Makan Desert, which is situated in the middle of the basin and is presumed to be the world’s second largest-shifting desert.
Li’s team had accidentally discovered the water; they had actually been looking for carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide can be absorbed in certain regions called “carbon sinks,” and scientists study those “carbon sinks” to better understand climate change. Li’s team had discovered 10 years that carbon dioxide had been disappearing into the basin, but could not understand why.