The environmental condition of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, seen
as a barometer for the world's health, is worsening due in large
part to global warming, according to a geological survey.
The survey, conducted by the Remote Sensing Department of the
China Aero Geophysical Survey, showed the plateau has shrinking
glaciers, a rising snow line, dwindling wetlands, and more serious
desertification compared with 30 years ago.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which accounts for nearly one quarter
of China's landmass, stretches into the Tibet Autonomous Region,
Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and the Xinjiang Uygur
It is the highest and youngest plateau in the world and has been
dubbed "the third pole." It is also home to the source of many big
rivers in Asia, such as the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang rivers,
giving it the nickname the "water tower" of China.
"As the 'thermometer' of the global environment, any slight
environmental change in the plateau is a reflection for the globe,"
said Zhang Hongtao, deputy director of the China Geological
The survey, which used remote sensor technology, is intended to
provide an overview of the plateau's geological conditions and help
its future economic development, Zhang said.
"The direct harm is the threat of the loss of the country's
fresh water resources," said Fang Hongbin, senior engineer at the
Remote Sensing Department. "Furthermore, we won't have any shield
to protect ourselves from the sand blowing from the plateau if the
desertification trend is not checked."
Fang suggested speeding up a project called "return the land to
green" in the western part of the country, as well as strictly
controlling the raising of livestock and mining activity on the
Even if the world's global climate does not continue to get
warmer, researchers estimate the plateau's glacial areas will
shrink to 72 per cent of the current area by 2050 and 50 per cent
by 2090, Fang said.
"The melting of the glaciers and snow has provided huge water
resources for the plateau and its surrounding area and led to a
temporary increase of wetlands and lakes in some regions," said
Fang. "But with the constant decrease of glaciers and the raising
of the snow line, the total water reserve of the plateau keeps
The glaciers on the plateau show an obvious trend of
diminishing, especially on the edge of the plateau. The trend has
gained momentum in recent years, the survey showed. The snow line
on the edge of the plateau also saw drastic reduction, with an
average retreating distance of 100 to 150 metres, with the largest
being 350 metres.
Although the desert region of the area is just slightly changed,
areas of medium and heavy desertification saw a huge increase,
which means more desertification in the future.
(China Daily January 2, 2007)