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Glaciers on Tibetan Plateau shrink 15% in warming: report

May 26, 2014

May 21, 2014 - Glaciers in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, home to several Himalayan rivers, have been shrunk by 15% in the past three decades and the situation could worsen in future due to global warming, Chinese scientists say.

Glaciers have shrunk by 15% 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 Sciences (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, they said.

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,” said Kang Shichang, a state laboratory director with the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute of CAS.

“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,” he said.

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, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Kang said retreating glaciers have impacted meltwater 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,” Shichang said. 

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