BEIJING China's western glaciers are melting so
fast that they may have largely disappeared by the end of the
century, drying up parts of the rivers they currently feed, the
official Xinhua agency reported on Monday.
The rivers of ice on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which
borders the Himalayas and has been nicknamed the "roof of the
world," account for around four-fifths of China's glaciers,
But over the last three decades, they have retreated at a
rate of around 131 kilometers a year, largely because of global
warming, the report said.
"If the glaciers continue to melt at the current speed,
most of them will have disappeared and rivers in their lower
reaches will have dried up by 2100," Yao Tandong, head of the
Chinese Academy of Science's Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Research
Institute, told Xinhua.
The region is the source of several of Asia's most
important and iconic rivers, including the Yangtze, Indus and
Mekong, so a fall in water levels could potentially affect
hundreds of millions of people.
The melting is also having a more immediate effect
upstream, where multiplying pools of water are building up,
flooding residents along rivers -- and then bursting,
endangering people living downstream, recent reports have said.
A National Climate Change Assessment released last year
predicted a slower glacier retreat; by 2100 glaciers on the
Qinghai-Tibet highlands could shrink by two thirds, it said.
But Greenpeace in a report on China's threatened glaciers
cited one forecast that 80 percent of the glacial area in Tibet
and surrounding parts could disappear by 2035.
Nationwide, glaciers have shrunk by seven percent, or 389
cubic kilometers, since the 1960s, research by Yao's team
China on Monday unveiled a national plan to tackle climate
change, which did not directly mention glaciers but warned that
the country had already seen a fall in runoff across six key
rivers over the last 40 years.