Glacier ice melting at the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau

Laohugou No. 12 glacier in the Qilian mountains, September 27, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
12th November 2020

The largest glacier in the Qilian mountain chain has retreated around 450 metres since the 1950s.

Glaciers in the Qilian mountains, at the north eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau are retreating as global warming brings environmental changes which could cause long-term water shortages, Reuters reported. 

The largest glacier in the Qilian mountain chain, known as Laohugou No. 12, has retreated around 450 metres since the 1950s when researchers set up China’s first monitoring station to study it.

The glacier has shrunk by around 7 percent since measurements started and the retreat has accelerated in recent years, Reuters reported.

It has also lost around 13 metres of ice as temperatures have increased, Qin Xiang, the director at the monitoring station said. 

“The speed that this glacier has been shrinking is really shocking,” Qin told Reuters. Qin added that since the 1950s, average temperatures in the area have risen about 1.5 Celsius with no sign of an end to warming. 

According to a state media report cited by Reuters, water flowing out of the mountains has formed a lake in the desert for the first time in 300 years.

The Tibetan Plateau has been called the world’s third pole because of the amount of ice it holds, third only behind Antarctica and the Arctic. 

Reuters added that glacier retreat in the mountains was 50 percent faster between 1990 and 2010 than it was from 1956 to 1990, citing data from the China Academy of Sciences.

The warming could also bring water shortages.

“Across the region, glacial melt water is pooling into lakes and causing devastating floods,” Greenpeace East Asia climate and energy campaigner Liu Junyan told Reuters.

“In spring, we’re seeing increased flooding, and then when water is needed most for irrigation later in the summer, we’re seeing shortages.”

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