Tibetan Plateau glaciers shrinking

A combo photo one taken in 1968 (top) and the other in 2007, show the retreating Rongbuk Glacier of Mount Everest on the Tibetan plateau.

About 90 per cent of glaciers in the Third Pole region are shrinking, accelerated by black carbon being transferred from South Asia to the Tibetan Plateau, a top scientist has warned.

The Third Pole region, which is centred on the Tibetan Plateau and concerns the interests of the surrounding countries and regions, covers more than 5 million square kilometers and has an average altitude of more than 4,000 meters.

The area has the largest number of glaciers outside the polar regions and exerts a direct influence on the social and economic development of some of the most densely populated regions on earth, including China and India.

The glaciers are at the headwaters of many prominent Asian rivers.

Influenced by global warming, its alpine glaciers have seen drastic changes in recent years, such as thinning and shrinkage, which pose potential geological hazards to people both on and around the plateau.

Like Antarctica and the Arctic, the Third Pole is drawing increased attention from the international academic community, but the results of former international studies in this area are inconsistent, said Yao Tandong, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research.

The scientist, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, said some people believe the glaciers will retreat and finally disappear by 2030, while others argue they will remain unchanged.

There are even people who argue that the glaciers have even moved forward, he said.

Researchers at Yao's institute say they can now draw a more comprehensive picture of the region, by showing data on the glaciers' status over the past 30 years. An investigation using topographic maps and satellite images revealed the retreat of 82 glaciers, area reduction by 7,090 glaciers and the mass-balance change of 15 glaciers.

"Systematic differences in glacier status are apparent from region to region, with the most pronounced shrinkage in the Himalayas, the southeastern part of the region.

Some of the glaciers there are very likely to disappear by 2030," Yao said.

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