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Lakes on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau growing rapidly, study finds

By Palden Nyima and Daqiong | | Updated: 2024-05-30 15:13
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The graph illustrates t he continuous expansion trend of lakes on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. [Photo/Website of the Chinese Academy of Sciences]

Chinese scientists have found that over the past three decades, the area of lakes on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has expanded by over 10,000 square kilometers and is continuing to grow, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced recently on its website.

The research carried out by the institute's environmental change and multisphere processes team, led by Zhang Guoqing, predicts that by the end of the 21st century, the lake area on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau will expand by approximately 50 percent, equivalent to about 20,000 square kilometers, under a low-emission scenario.

This expansion will increase water levels by an estimated 10 meters, resulting in a staggering increase in water volume of about 652 billion metric tons, which is four times the increase over the past 50 years.

The research is a pivotal advancement in the study of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau lakes. It was published in the esteemed international academic journal Nature Geoscience on Monday and is poised to provide crucial scientific guidance for future planning on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Described as the "Asian Water Tower," the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau boasts the world's highest and most extensive plateau lake group, accounting for over 50 percent of China's total lake area.

Xu Fenglin, one of the authors of the published research paper and a doctoral student at the institute, said that the research highlights that lakes in the northern plateau are experiencing the most significant expansion and will potentially double in area under high-emission scenarios.

"The lakes in the central region of the plateau are projected to expand by over 50 percent, while lakes in the southern region, previously in a state of shrinkage, are anticipated to transition to expansion in the near future," Xu said.

"The expansion of lakes on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau will increase lake-atmosphere exchanges, potentially leading to an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, thereby exacerbating global warming."

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