Fresh Water Reservoir Could Lead to Exclusion Zone in South China Sea

A large reservoir of freshwater was discovered beneath Fiery Cross Reef, one of the artificial islands China made in the South China Sea. The reservoir is growing at a rate of about 1 meter (3.3 feet) per year. This is twice as fast as reservoir water level growth in naturally formed islands. Freshwater can support agriculture. Agriculture can be exported. Islands that are habitable and have commerce can qualify for UN exclusion zones.

Fiery Cross Reef is 2 square kilometers (0.77 sq miles or about 470 acres).

Annual rainfall was nearly 3.0 meters (118 inches) at the reef. This is five times the average in mainland China. A belt of freshwater was found floating on top of the saltwater. This phenomenon, known as a “freshwater lens”, can take up to 150 years to form and stabilize on a naturally formed island. The freshwater lens appeared just two years after the land was reclaimed. This year it measured 7 meters (23 feet). It will expand to depth of 15 meters (49 feet) by 2035.

It now has about 5000 acre-feet of water (if the reservoir is under all of the island). This would fill 2500 Olympic swimming pools. This will more than double by 2035.

This is enough water to support over ten thousand people. They could also provide food and water for fisherman who are using the islands.

CSIS has a satellite image from MAXAR of the island from March 2020

Freshwater will help support troops on the island and more importantly farming for export to qualify for an exclusion zone.

The island has 12 hardened shelters with retractable roofs for mobile missile launchers. It has enough hangars to accommodate 24 combat aircraft and four larger planes. Fiery Cross reef has a runway long enough to land a Chinese Xian H-6N bomber.

The Chinese Navy grew about 1,653 pounds of bok choy cabbage, lettuce and baby Chinese cabbage on the Paracel Islands’ sandy beaches.

If the islands can support agriculture, then crops could be exported. Creating a market is part of long-term strategy to use the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to back up claims to the islands.

Article 121, the Regime of Islands, of the UNCLOS, states, “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.”

Growing 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of tomatoes using intensive farming methods requires 400 liters of water but only 70 liters using hydroponics. 115-acre feet of water is about 140 million liters of water.
They could grow 2 thousand tons of tomatoes if hydroponics was used. Rainwater traps could boost triple the freshwater accumulation.

Written by Brian Wang,