Glaciers on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the roof of the world, are beating a dramatic retreat. In the past three decades, they have shrunk by 131.4 square kilometers annually, according to the latest report from the China Geological Survey Bureau.
What that means is that an area of glacier equivalent to twice the size of the Beijing downtown area disappears every year.
A further 13,000 square kilometers of glacier -- nearly 28 percent of the total glacier area and equivalent to twice the area of Shanghai Municipality -- will disappear by 2050 if no protective measures are taken, the report said.
Glaciers on the outskirts of the plateau have already decreased by 10 percent and those in the hinterland have shrunk by five percent.
Researchers said the melting of the glaciers has brought abundant water to the rivers, lakes and wetlands in the plateau and its surrounding areas in the short term.
"But as the glacier shrinkage accelerates, the plateau's total water storage will decrease rapidly," said Fang Hongbin, a remote sensing expert.
Experts point out that since the plateau supplies the headstreams of many of the major rivers in East, Southeast and South Asia, the decrease of water storage in the region will have a significant impact on the economic and social development of China as well as neighboring countries.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in western and southwestern China is the highest plateau in the world. With an elevation of 3,000-5,000 meters, it is known as the "roof of the world".
It is estimated that the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has over 36,000 glaciers with an area of 49,873 square kilometers. About 84 percent of the country's total glaciers are located on the plateau.
The report said the plateau's 88,715 square kilometers of wetlands are also dwindling rapidly and the plateau is suffering from serious desertification.
"Environmental change on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is closely connected with crustal movements. But human activities also contribute to the deterioration of the environment," Fang said.
Researchers said they hoped their investigation would provide the government with valuable input for regional development plans and environmental protection programs.
(Xinhua News Agency January 6, 2007)