Due to global warming and an increase in tourists, the Mingyong Glacier, one of the lowest altitude glaciers on earth, retreats at an annual rate of 50 meters, according to scientists.
The outer layer of the glacier, in Deqen County of southwest China's Yunnan Province, shrank by 200 meters in the past three and half years, and its density reduced by half to 150 meters. Rivulets formed by glacier water ran down from the Kawagebo Peak, described as a sacred mountain by Tibetan people.
Robert Moseley, an American environmentalist in charge of the research project in Yunnan, cited global warming and geological change as the chief reasons for the retreat of the glacier.
However, many others attribute the shrinkage to the development of tourism. An official with the Yunnan Provincial Tourism Department said the annual number of visitors to the Mingyong Glacier grew from 10,000 in 1999 to 110,000 in 2001. The number of organized tourists exceeded 50,000 in the first half of 2002, apart from explorers and individual visitors.
Fascinated by the beautiful view of the Mingyong Glacier, many visitors come to the glacier once a year.
Some visitors chiseled ice from the glacier, put it into vacuum flasks and took it home. Construction of a plank along the glacier also inflicted damage.
In 1991, a Sino-Japanese mountaineering team attempted to climb the glacier, but 17 team members were killed by an avalanche. It was the most disastrous event in world mountain-climbing history.
(Xinhua News Agency January 2, 2003)