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
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 Autonomous Region.
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"
"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 Survey.
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 plateau.
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 declining."
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 12/30/2006 page2)