Friday, July 13, 2007

China glaciers melting at alarming rate

France24, via Agence France-Presse: Massive glaciers in northwest China have melted at an alarming rate over the past 40 years, with global warming believed to be the culprit, scientists said in comments published Friday. China's remote Xinjiang region is home to nearly half of the nation's glaciers that supply the rest of the country and other parts of Asia with water.

However they have shrunk by 20 percent and snow lines there have receded by about 60 metres (200 feet) since 1964, the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in a report, according to the official Xinhua news agency. Global warming is believed to be to blame, with the internal temperature of the glaciers rising by 10 percent over the past two decades, the academy said.

"Like the hard drive of a computer, glaciers record how the environment has changed. Warm weather has been the major cause of the glaciers' retreat," Xinhua quoted Wang Feiteng, a researcher with the academy, as saying.

In the most alarming example, the largest glacier in Xinjiang, located 3,545 metres above sea level in the Tianshan mountains, split in two in 1993 and has since been melting extremely quickly, according to Wang. Another researcher with the academy, Hu Wenkang, said the shrinking glaciers would have a major impact on Xinjiang, one of China's most arid regions, and beyond.

"Glaciers are sometimes called solid reservoirs. They are one of the major water resources in... Xinjiang," Hu said. "But melting glaciers may cause floods and landslides in some areas, and (eventually) fail to provide water for rivers." Xinjiang has 42 percent of China's glaciers, with most of the others in the Himalayan areas in and around Tibet to the south.

While other reports have emerged in China's state-run press about the demise of Tibet's glaciers, those in Xinjiang have previously been given scant attention. One of China's top glaciologists, Yao Tangdong, warned last year of an "ecological catastrophe" in Tibet because of global warming. He said most glaciers in the region could melt away by 2100 if no efficient measures were taken.

UN scientists agreed in a landmark report this year that human activity was responsible for global warming, largely due to the use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

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