After the foundation of new China, the exploration and development of salt lake resources in Qaidam Basin began to gain prominence. Researches in salt lake sciences have been constantly blooming, progressively uncovering the mysteries of salt lake deposits.
In 1951, Prof. Fuxiang Ge of Lanzhou University proposed to the Government Administration Council that research and development on salt lake resources in Qaidam Basin be valued by the country. In response, Institute of Chemistry Chinese Academy of Sciences (ICCAS) established a study group of physicochemical analysis, supervised by Prof. Dagang Liu. A physicochemical study on Chaka Salt Lake was carried out in the following year. Meanwhile, the Project of “Survey on Salt Lakes in Qaidam Basin” was included as one of the collaborations between the former Soviet Union (SU) and China, during a conference on cooperation between the two countries.
In May 1957, the CAS Team of Salt Lake Scientific Survey was established under the supervision of CAS Comprehensive Survey Committee. Prof. Dagang Liu was the director, while Jianqi Yuan and Chenshi Han were vice directors. From 1957 to 1964, intensive investigations had been conducted on Qaidam salt lakes, with particular focus on the Salt Lakes of Da Qaidam and Qarhan by the team, together with associated organizations. Experimental studies on hydrology and hydrochemistry, deposit composition, mining and dressing, salt pan tectonics and solar evaporation technology, chemical processing, physicochemical analysis of mineral salts, as well as comprehensive utilization of brines were carried out, whereby remarkable achievements have been made with a number or groundbreaking results. Through the investigations, the first hydrochemical map at a scale of 1:500,000 for Qaidam Basin was worked out; pinnoite and carnallite were discovered respectively at Qarhan and Da Qaidam; a number of borates were successively discovered at the Da Qaidam boron deposit, in which hungchaoite and carboborite were spotted in China for the first time. These efforts have established a portfolio of potassium, lithium, magnesium and boron mineral deposits for China salt lake industry. In 1957 and 1958, Da Qaidam Chemicals and Qarhan Potash Works were built, respectively utilizing the ulexite of Salt Lakes Da Qaidam and Xiao Qaidam to produce borax, and Qarhan carnallite to produce potassium fertilizer.
In the mean time, the CAS Team of Qinghai-Gansu Comprehensive Survey, which was directed by Academician Prof. Defeng Hou, director of Institute of Geology CAS, organized a sub-team of salt lake survey to carry out comprehensive investigations on salt lake and celestite sediments in West Qaidam Basin, E. and W. Taijinar Salt Lakes, and Yiliping Salt Lake. Prof. Hou discovered lacustrine sedimentary celestite beds during his supervision of studies on petroleum geology.
In the years 1958-1960, China and SU collaborated on the Project of “Exploration and Utilization Salt Lake Resources in Qaidam Basin”.
In April 1960, the first national salt lake and salt deposit symposium was held in Beidaihe, organized by the Team of Salt Lake Scientific Survey. Prof. Dagang Liu gave a thorough lecture on the past observations and studies on salt lakes, summarized that Qaidam salt lakes have the features of “Numerousness, Hugeness, Richness and Variety”, put forward the branch discipline of a resource oriented salt lake chemistry, which is something like seawater chemistry, and suggested 10 subjects of study in the field of salt lake chemistry.
With an urgent need of fertilizers in agriculture, and advocated by Kezhen Zhu, the then CAS vice president, salt lake activities were further activated. In Feb 1963, Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and State Council convened a congress on agricultural science and technology, with the resolution that a potash works at a scale of 100,000 tons per annum be built at Lake Qarhan.
In May 1964, CAS presidium decided that Institute of Salt Lakes (ISL) be established by incorporating Northwest Institute of Chemistry CAS, and relevant researchers from Lanzhou Institute of Geology, Beijing Institute of Chemistry, and Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology. Thus, Institute of Salt Lakes Chinese Academy of Sciences was founded on 6 March 1965. Prof. Dagang Liu was the first Director. ISL had a staff of 211 then.
In 1965, the Ministry of Chemical Industry (MCI) organized the MCI Institute of Salt Lake Industry and Comprehensive Utilization. In June 1966, in response to a suggestion of the State Construction Commission and approved by the State Science and Technology Commission, the MCI Institute of Salt Lake Industry and Comprehensive Utilization was merged into Institute of Salt Lakes, under the supervision of CAS.
In 1970, ISL became co-supervised by CAS and Qinghai Province, and was thence renamed as the present name Qinghai Institute of Salt Lakes Chinese Academy of Sciences. As of 1981, after CAS had commissioned its Lanzhou Branch to supervise ISL, ISL adopted the system of co-supervision by CAS and Qinghai Province, with primary administration by CAS. China salt lake undertakings had thence entered a new stage featuring relatively concentrated research forces, gradually updating research facilities, and persistently growing research levels.