Saturday, 17 March 2012

Tibetan Plateau and Climate Change: An Overview

            Source: EDD

Today, climate change and its impact is a grave concern to the entire world and one that can no longer be ignored. Such a change is not an inexorable force of nature but in fact, has known human causes and available solutions to restore climatic stability.

After Arctic and Antarctic, the Tibetan Plateau is Earth’s largest store of ice and a hotspot of climate change. Due to its unique geographical location and high altitude, Tibetan Plateau faces rapid changes in its weather patterns and ecosystems in more extreme ways than other parts of the world. The Plateau has been warming three times as fast as the global average and its glaciers are shrinking more rapidly than anywhere else.

Despite its cold environment, for thousands of years the Tibetan people inhabited this plateau and created cultural landscapes based on the principles of simplicity and non-violence, in harmonywith the environment.

The significance of the Tibetan Plateau is clearly evident from different names being used byscientists such as, ‘The Third Pole’, ‘The Water Tower of Asia’, ‘The Roof of the World’ and ‘The Barometer of Asia’.

With an average elevation of 4,500 meters, the Plateau contains over 46,000 glaciers covering anarea of 105,000 sq. km, and is the highest, largest, and coldest plateau on Earth. It is surrounded by the mighty Himalayas in the south, Kunlun Mountains in the north, and Hindu Kush and Pamir ranges in the west.

The glaciers, snow capped mountains, permafrost soils and alpine wetlands of the Tibetan Plateau hold a large reserve of carbon. If not managed properly they could become a source of greenhouse gases.

The rivers originating from Tibet have been the lifeblood of Asian civilization as ancient societies have developed their lifestyles around these great rivers. Today almost half of the world’s population is dependent on the water coming from Tibet. As a result Plateau’s impact is not only regional, but also global.

The plateau plays an important role in generating and regulating the Asian monsoon. It heats quickly in spring and summer, diverting the jet stream, establishing a steep pressure gradient that draws monsoon clouds deep inland into the heart of Eurasia.

The Tibetan Plateau is a unique biodiversity zone with over 100,000 high altitude plant species, 12,000 species of vascular plants, 532 species of birds, 132 identified minerals etc.

The prevailing global warming and the land use changes over the Tibetan Plateau are leading to a series of interconnected environmental concerns like meltdown of glaciers, degradation of permafrost layers, changes in the river hydrology, drying up of wetlands, shrinking of lakes, degradation of grasslands and displacement of Tibetan pastoral nomads.

 This multi-faceted environmental degradation further enhances warming process and adversely affects the Plateau’s climate, its neighbors and the world at large.

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