Almost 6,000 glaciers in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, also known as the Tibetan Plateau in China, have reportedly disappeared in the past 50 years as the region saw a temperature spike because of global warming.
Scientists reported that 5,956 miniature alpine glaciers have disappeared in the region out of the 34,578 glaciers they discovered 50 years ago, while 25,901 glaciers have shrunk dramatically, according to Sixth Tone.
Scientists also noted that only 1,907 glaciers became larger and 2,721 became smaller during that period.
The melted glaciers have flowed through the lakes surrounding the plateau, with scientists estimating that 80 percent of these lakes have expanded in size in the past few decades.
The continued melting of the plateau’s glaciers has also brought safety concerns – such as natural disasters like floods and mudslides caused by heavy rainfall, snowfall or rocks – to the nearby area.
The volume of glacial runoff has also increased due to the melting glaciers, according to the scientists. Citing research from 1989 to 2019, they stated that the amount of glacial runoff had increased from 1.867 cubic kilometers to 3.137 cubic kilometers, with the TuoTuo River also seeing an increase from 0.712 cubic kilometers to 1.974 cubic kilometers.
Known as the “water tower of Asia,” there are reportedly over 48,500 glaciers in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, with a total area of around 51,840 square kilometers (5,184,000 hectares).
The neighboring Qilian Mountains, located on the northeast part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, have also experienced alarming changes in the past decades. Citing data from the China Academy of Sciences, Reuters reported that the glaciers in the neighboring Qilian Mountains retreated 50 percent faster during 1990 to 2010 than during 1956 to 1990.
“Across the region, glacial meltwater is pooling into lakes and causing devastating floods,” Greenpeace East Asia climate and energy campaigner Liu Junyan said. “In spring, we’re seeing increased flooding, and then when water is needed most for irrigation later in the summer, we’re seeing shortages.”
The central Asian mountain region known as High-Mountain Asia, which includes the Himalayan, Karakoram and Hindu Kush Mountains, has also been affected by temperature changes. The region, which contains 55,000 glaciers and stretches from China to Afghanistan, has the largest storage of freshwater in the world outside the North and South Poles.
“The whole region, the whole of High-Mountain Asia is affected by climate change. That’s a reality,” Siddique Baig, a disaster risk analyst at the University of Islamabad’s High Mountain Research Center, told DW.
Baig and his family were forced to move to a hotel after a glacial lake near Hassanabad in northern Pakistan erupted in May, resulting in intense flooding, the destruction of two hydropower plants and the demolition of pipelines in their town that caused a freshwater shortage.
Nonprofit group Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index listed Nepal and Pakistan as two of the top 10 countries in the world that are the most threatened by climate change.
For Baig and other scientists, the future is gloomy. He believes that the estimated 7 million people living in the mountainous region of Pakistan should be relocated to “other safer places.”