Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Disaster predicted as glaciers retreat

Since the 1950s, China's glaciers have retreated by about 7,600 square kilometers, or around 18 percent. An average of 247 square kilometers of glacial ice has disappeared every year.

Even climbers on Mount Everest seem surprised. "Base camp, 5,200 meters above sea level, had been covered by thick ice, but now there is nothing but stones," Zhang Mingxing, director of Tibet's mountaineering administration center, said.

Kang Shichang, of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, calculates that glaciers around Everest have shrunk by 10 percent since 1974, evidenced in the fact that a glacial lake downstream of the mountain is now 13 times bigger.

China has more than 46,000 glaciers, mainly on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, about 14.5 percent of the world's total.

Glaciers are not only a major reservoir of fresh water but an important part of the climate system.

"They are sources of life for China's western arid regions," Kang said.

The melting glaciers will inevitably lead to ecological and environmental change, according to Liu Shiyin, who led a survey of China's glaciers.

In the short term, retreating glaciers will release meltwater and create lakes, leading to disaster, Liu said. Glacial lakes in Tibet were breached 15 times between the 1930s and 1990s, causing floods and mudslides.

Glacial melt is closely related to climate change, and the regional government of Tibet is trying to cut emissions. Enterprises which invest in green energy, including solar, wind and methane, can enjoy tax privileges for up to eight years.

In addition to cutting emissions, Tibet has spent heavily to protect its environment.

Jiang Bai, from the regional environmental protection department, believes local governments are committed to ensuring clean water and blue sky in Tibet. In 2009, the State Council invested 15.5 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion) in protecting Tibet's environment, Jiang said.

Although the money helps, it is not enough to stop glaciers from retreating, Kang said.

He wants more research on glaciers and climate change, and better use of the meltwater.

Monk Ngawang Doa, from a monastery on the foot of Everest, said: "If glaciers do not have ice and mountains do not have snow, what will our lives become? Humans must make every effort to protect nature and co-exist with it."

   Xinhua - china.org.cn
6/5/15
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