Glaciers on Earth's 'third pole' are quickly disappearing
Central Asia’s glaciers make up the third-largest mass of frozen fresh water on earth, the planet’s “third pole.” The region is the source of 10 major river systems, supplying irrigation, power and drinking water to over 1.3 billion people.
The Third Pole region includes the Pamir, the Hindu Kush, Himalayan mountains and the Tibetan Plateau, and the importance of this Third Pole region cannot be dismissed, especially with global warming.
But now, this vital source of water for people from Afghanistan to Vietnam is now becoming a serious hazard, with glaciers skipping the melting process altogether to rupture and flood in a region that has warmed at twice the global rate of climate change, reports Vice.com.
The Third Pole encompasses the snow-covered mountains surrounding the Tibetan Plateau. It holds the largest store of permanent ice and permafrost outside the poles themselves. WWF
In August this year, a glacier in northeastern Afghanistan burst and flooded the Panjshir River basin, killing at least 10 people. The floodwaters created a huge mess, destroying 56 houses and two bridges, wrecked a highway, broke an irrigation canal, and swamped farmland, according to an internal report from the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), based in Nepal.
And during the same week in western China, according to Greenpeace East Asia, a glacier released 35 million cubic meters—or 14,000 Olympic swimming pools of fresh water into the Yarkant River basin, prompting evacuations, The point is - these disasters struck in places not generally at risk for this kind of thing.
“China has always had a freshwater supply problem, with 20 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of its freshwater,” said Jonna Nyman, an energy security lecturer at the University of Sheffield in England. “That’s heightened by the impact of climate change.” Now, it is getting worse.
Glacial lakes are growing in area in the Earth's Third Pole region. This is a photo of a glacier in Central Tien Shan in Kazakhstan. WWF
Killing a glacial with love
One such glacier, known as Baishui No. 1 used to be the largest glacier on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, a small mountain range on the southeastern edge of the Third Pole, in Yulong Naxi Autonomous County, Lijiang, in Yunnan province, China.
The mountain itself is part of Yulong Snow Mountain National Scenic Area and National Geological Park, an AAAAA-classified scenic area. The view of the beautiful mountain and Baishui No. 1 is enjoyed by millions of people every year.
However, the Park operates a tourist cable car that takes tourists up to 4,680 meters (15,350 feet) for close views of the snow peak, a practice that is criticized for accelerating the melting of the snow and reducing the water retention by the mountain. The bare flanks of the mountain, that used to be a thick sheet of ice reveals empty oxygen tanks, discarded by visitors after their trip to the top of the mountain.
Lijiang, Yunnan, China: Nakhi people carrying the typical baskets of the region; scene from a public perfomance in Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Open Air Theatre. CEphoto, Uwe Aranas
One research team has tracked Baishui’s retreat of about 30 yards (27 meters) per year over the past decade. Flowers, such as snow lotus, have rooted in the exposed earth, says Wang Shijin, a glaciologist, and director of the Yulong Snow Mountain Glacial and Environmental Observation Research Station, a part of the network run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The research team has been documenting the retreat of the glacier for decades now, and have seen a quarter of its ice vanish since 1957 along with four of its 19 glaciers. They use remote sensors that collect data on temperature, wind speed, rainfall, and humidity. Other sensors measure water flow in streams fed by melted ice. And the changes are dramatic.
Note to readers:
I want to include the full description of the article's cover photo because to me, it says more than any words I can write: The picture was taken by a Wikimedia user called Byronace on June 22, 2017. "This picture is about the glacier of Midui, located in the Lakewu lake, Tibet. while I do think this picture is quite amazing for one picture crossing broad-leaved forest that means tropical atmosphere to the snow mountain that means alpine glacier, including all the natural belt, that is quite abnormal. The scenery only can stay in the northwest China, the third pole of the world. However, with the human's heavy activity just nearly two century, many fossil fuel dig out to burn which make the balance of the world broke out. Melting the iceberg , upper the sea-level, discharging particulate matter and polluted water, all the disaster flood toward human. I am seriously wonder can our children see the same scenery at the same point of mine. So I upload this picture to call us to protect our nearby environment."