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The Three Gorges Dam

The Three Gorges Dam in China is the undisputed winner of the biggest
volume prize, as it is far ahead of any other volume of water in the world
that has ever been contained by humans.
The Three Gorges Dam crosses the Yangtze River in Hubei province in China.
It the world’s largest hydroelectric power station by total capacity, which is
22,500 MW at full power. When the water level is maximum at 175
meters(574 ft) over sea level (91 meters (299 ft) above river level), the
reservoir created by the dam is about 660 kilometers (410 mi) in length and
1.12 kilometers (0.70 mi) in width on average. The total surface area of the
reservoir is 1045 square kilometers, and it could flood a total area of 632
square kilometers, of land. The reservoir contains about 39.3 cu km (9.43
cubic miles) of water. That water weighs more than 39 trillion kilograms (42
billion tons).
Information source:

The volume of the water in Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne Australia is around
25 cubic kilometres (6.0 cu mi). So the Three Gorges Dam created on the
Yangtze River in China is about one and a half times bigger than the Bay.
While the dam was being built to harness the flow of the Yangtze River, a set
of locks had to be built as well, in order to allow the large amounts of
shipping traffic on the river to continue to use the river.

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Hydroelectricity involves holding back a large mass of water, and then
letting it run down huge pipes to a lower level. The energy of the falling
water is used to spin around huge turbines. These spinning turbines then
generate electricity.
The greater the difference in river height created by the dam, the greater
the distance the water falls, and the more energy available to make
The earth’s gravity is what makes the water fall, and is the source of the
The math equation involved is : Energy = 9.8 x Mass x Height.
9.8 is the earth’s gravitational force constant, and the Mass of water flowing
down into the turbine is extremely large. This combined with the average
150m to 175m height of water in the dam, creates a very large amount of
The percentage efficiency of the electricity generation is an amazing 90%.
Eg. 90% of the gravitational energy of the water falling is harnessed to
create electricity.
Here is a diagram of how Hydroelectricity works.

There would have been a lot of mathematics involved with working out just
how big they could make the internal pipes, and the turbines, to the largest
size possible, to generate the most electricity. They would also have to
consider and calculate how many pipes they could put through the dam wall
without compromising its strength. This is all part of the exciting
mathematical work that Engineers do when designing structures and
As dams are made higher, they have to be made strong enough to hold back
the massive volume of water that is behind the dam wall.
The shape of a dam was is usually thinnest at the top and very thick at the
bottom. The geometric shape is that of a three dimensional skewed
The far side of the dam needs to be made much bigger and thicker than the
wall side, as it needs to counteract the huge weight of water behind the dam
wall. This is shown in the following picture.

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Whilst providing a massive amount of electricity, the Three Gorges dam in
China is having a number of problems currently in 2011.
The slowing down of the old river’s flow of water behind the dam has lead to
lots of Algae pollution, and lots of rubbish piling up behind the dam. It
actually costs the dam operators 1.5 million dollars a year to remove the
rubbish from behind the dam wall.
However, the main idea of the dam was to create green electrical energy
that does not cause carbon emmissions, and to this end it has been
successful. It has also been used to control and prevent downstream
flooding of the Yangtze River during periods of heavy rainfall.