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Monday, February 19, 2001, updated at 17:53(GMT+8)

China Challenges Threats from Glacier Melting

With protective efforts by Chinese government, the two most famous low-latitude glaciers in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in southwest China still retain sound natural landscape at comparatively slow melting rate.

Latest statistics released by China's environment supervision departments show that thanks to improvement of natural and manual ecological systems in the areas, the Hailuogou Glacier in Sichuan shrank only 1 km over the past decade, a comparably slow rate than many major glaciers in the world.

The Mingyong Glacier on Mt. Meili in Yunnan Province reports no growth on its moving rate in recent years.

Glaciers are always sensitive to reflect change in the global climate. With the world's climate warming up, almost all glaciers located at low latitude areas are facing problems of comprehensive melting.

The glacier melting will result in flowage, floods, farmland inundated with water and mud-rock slides. Moreover, the drying up of ice lakes will lead to river shrinking, leading to severe drought.

In addition, the disappearance of glacier landscape equals to destroy on natural resources for scientific research and tourism industry.

With the country's largest glacier and an integrated surrounding of natural resources and cultural relics, the location of the Hailuogou Glacier was 29.6 degrees north latitude on Mt. Minya Konka in Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan. The glacier's moving speed is 180 meters per year.

Zhang Wenjing, a scientist in the field of modern glacier and environment research, said that with a series of protective measures carried out by governments, human activities in the area have not caused big problems to the Hailuogou Glacier.

Now, the Hailuogou Glacier area has been listed as a state-level natural scenic site. While developing tourism resources in the area, the central and local governments have banned on tree-felling, part of the effort to protect the ecological environment in the upper reach of the country's longest Yangtze River.

At the same time, local governments at various levels are working hard to restore the natural forests along the river by returning farmland to grassland and forests.

They have implemented laws and policies designed to encourage more local people to raise awareness to protect rare glacier resources.

"Related departments have decided to build a cable way to cross the glacier," Zhang said, explaining that the cable way will provide tourists an untouchable sightseeing and panoramic view, while traveling over the glacier.

That can also avoid glacier cracking and garbage pollution from people directly stepping or climbing on glacier tongues, he added.

Zhao Xitao, with the geographic research institute under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, began a scientific research project on geographic changes in the northwestern part of Yunnan in 1996.

Zhao's research involves with the Mingyong Glacier which is located at the eastern slop of the Kagbo Peak, the highest peak on Mt. Meili.

Mingyong is a glacier of the lowest elevation -- 2,700 meters and lowest latitude -- 28.5 degrees north, in China, he said.

The glacier is 11.7 km long and covers an area of 13 sq. km, looking like a zigzag ice dragon entwined on the mountain.

With characteristics of a typical oceanic climate -- high surface temperature and fast moving speed, the glacier has diversified climates from top to bottom, from frigid zone, temperate zone to a semi-tropical zone as well as various vegetation belts: firn, tundra, meadow, bosk, fir, taiga, and broadleaf forest.

According to the expert, the Mingyong Glacier is moving up at a speed of 530 meters every year.

While the Mingyong Glacier will not only provide valuable insight into the study of geology in the area, the unique glacier landscape and fresh mountain environment at the bottom attract flocks of domestic and overseas visitors, said the expert.

How to protect the glacier and the snow-capped Mt. Meili, 6,740 meters high, has also become one of the major scientific tasks for central Chinese government and the provincial government of Yunnan.

An international seminar on the glacier was hosted recently in Yunnan, leading to an agreement to set up an international cooperation system for protection and development on the Mingyong Glacier and Mt. Meili.

Mt. Meili has been put on the list of the world's 200 areas that are under protection by the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) because of its geological location, glacier research and diversified biological resources.

The latest scientific survey shows that there are abundant glacier in China totaling an area of 58,000 sq. km.

Chinese glacier researchers agree that most glaciers in southwest China region are shrinking, but with efficient measures and continuous efforts from governments and people, preservation of glacier characteristics and unique natural landscape in the region will be realized.

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With protective efforts by Chinese government, the two most famous low-latitude glaciers in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in southwest China still retain sound natural landscape at comparatively slow melting rate.

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