BEIJING (Reuters) - Accelerated glacier melting in the mountains of Tibet could choke off water sources vital for large parts of China, the environmental group Greenpeace said on Wednesday, warning of a chain-reaction of damage from global warming.
Across the Qinghai-Tibet highland that spans much of western China, global warming is speeding the retreat of glaciers, stoking evaporation of glacial and snow run-off, and leaving dwindling rivers dangerously clogged with silt, Greenpeace activists said at the release of a report on climate change in the region.
Water from the mountain region feeds the Yellow, Yangtze and other rivers that feed hundreds of millions of people across China and South Asia, said Li Yan of Greenpeace’s Beijing office.
“Climate change is the major factor leading to the overall ecological degradation in this region while localized human activities, like industry and agriculture, have aggravated the situation,” the Greenpeace report said.
“The river itself is under threat from this deterioration in its birthplace,” the report said of the Yellow River.
The environmental group cited one forecast that 80 percent of the glacial area in Tibet and surrounding parts could disappear by 2035.
But recent studies on global warming and the region reflect uncertainty about how quickly glaciers will melt, how rain and snowfall will be affected, and what the consequences may be.
Wu Shaohong of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has predicted that glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau could plummet from 500,000 square kilometers (193,100 sq miles) in 1995 to 100,000 square kilometers by 2030.
China’s recently issued National Climate Change Assessment predicted a slower retreat; by 2050, glaciers across western China, a broader area than the plateau, could shrink by 27 percent. Glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet highlands that feed the Yangtze River could shrink by two thirds by the end of this century, it said.
The Greenpeace activists who surveyed the slopes of Mount Everest this year and last to document glacier retreat said local herders were not seeing more abundant water from the melting.
Increased evaporation and accumulation in unstable glacier lakes were making water flows less predictable and more dangerous, Li said.
“Now the winter is as hot as summer. The weather change is obvious,” a Tibetan monk who has lived on the lower slopes of Everest for two decades told the Greenpeace team in a video they showed.
Multiplying pools of water accumulating from melted glaciers were building up and then bursting, endangering people living downstream, Li said.