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Vanishing glaciers put rivers at risk


10:59, October 24, 2011

GLACIERS in southwest China's Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, a major source of the country's largest rivers, are melting faster than ever under the influence of global warming, researchers claim.

Experts have been conducting research on the waters, geology, glaciers and wetlands at the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang rivers in northwest China's Qinghai Province since 2005. Results from the study show a large area of glaciers has melted in the 2,400-square-kilometer region.

Glaciers are the largest source of fresh water on the planet. They are also a reliable indicator of climate change, and easy for scientists to observe. An expert with Qinghai's Three-River Headwaters Office said the cluster of some 80 glaciers around the Aemye Ma-chhen Range, the source of the Yellow River, is shrinking especially fast.

Li Xiaonan, deputy head of the office, said: "I can sometimes see the Ameye Ma-chhen Range from an airplane. But I worry we are not likely to see the glaciers there in 10 years or more."

Cheng Haining, senior engineer with the provincial surveying and mapping bureau, said about 5.3 percent, or 70 square kilometers, of the glaciers at the Yangtze's headwaters have melted away over the past three decades.

Cheng said "the melting of glaciers is closely connected with climate change." He added that data collected by three meteorological stations over the past 50 years show a continued rise in the average temperature of the three-river headwaters area.

The winter of 2009, for example, was the warmest in 15 years, according to the provincial climate center. Last year the average temperature there hit a five-decade high.

Residents in Yushu Tibet Autonomous Prefecture said the Lancang River froze in November in the 1970s, but did not freeze at all in 1999. It is estimated 70 percent of the glaciers at the Lancang River headwaters have disappeared due to the warmer weather.

Other than climate change, experts said human activities and excessive exploitation also account for glacier depletion.

Xin Yuanhong, a senior engineer with the Qinghai Hydrography and Geology Study Center, said the melting of glaciers could lead to a water shortage and even a drying of rivers.


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