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Tibet Glaciers Shrinking Rapidly
Jun 23, 2014

Glaciers in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, home to several Himalayan rivers, have been shrunk by 15 per cent in the past three decades and the situation could worsen in future due to global warming. Glaciers have shrunk by 15 per cent from 53,000 to 45,000 square kilometres over the past three decades, according to a report by the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research of the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS), glaciers on the plateau and surrounding areas.

As the highest place in the world's mid-latitude regions, the plateau is more likely to get affected by global warming. Tibet is the home of several Himalayan rivers including the Brahmaputra. Glaciers in the plateau have been shrinking since the 20th century and sped up since the 1990s. More and bigger cracks have appeared in ice at regions of an altitude above 6,300 metres in Mount Qomolangma (Mt Everest), a sign of rapidly melting glaciers.

China has more than 46,000 glaciers, mainly in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. They are a reliable indicator of climate change, and easy for scientists to observe. Glaciers have impacted melt water rivers and led to more glacier-lake outbursts. It can increase water flow of major rivers in the short term, but in the long run, a continuation of the retreat will eventually deplete the glacial ice and substantially reduce or eliminate runoff.

Glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau—the source of rivers such as the Brahmaputra—have shrunk retreating by 8,000 square kilometres since 1980.

The decades-long study conducted by the official Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) discovered that the perennial frozen earth on the Tibetan plateau had also shrunk by 16 per cent over the past 30 years.

The study attributes the retreat of glaciers and thawing of frozen earth to global warming, suggesting a significant impact on the water security of the subcontinent. Rivers such as the Brahmaputra have their source on the Tibetan plateau, where it flows as the Yarlung Zangbo before turning at the great bend and entering India.

CAS researchers found that the volume of frozen earth on the plateau had decreased from 1.5 million to 1.26 million square kilometres.

Researchers used remote sensing and satellite monitoring in their decades-long study. Meteorological data suggested that the average temperature on the plateau had risen by 1.8 degrees over the past three decades, higher than China’s national average temperature rise.

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