Alukea, a local man of the Yi Minority, looks out from the valley-side onto the Hailuogou glacier below. “The glacier is not the same as before. The weather seems to get warmer every year”. Garze Tibetan area. Sichuan Province, China. 2012
Meltdown: Climate Change and Environmental Degradation on the Tibetan Plateau for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
“Watch out!” came the scream from behind me. As I turned around, people were scrambling for cover when a rock, the size of a microwave, plummeted towards us. Pressing ourselves quickly against the cold wall next to us, the rock landed at our feet, smashing noisily into the icy floor. “That was close,” laughed my guide next to me. The sounds of rushing water, ice cracking and falling rocks quickly reminded me of the dynamic nature of the place where I currently found myself.
I was standing inside a crevasse in the lower reaches of the Hailuogou glacier, a tongue of ice 15 km long, that plunges off the east side of the looming Mount Gongga (7,556m). Located in the Tibetan area of Garze on the southeast edge of the Tibetan Plateau, the glacier is one of China’s 35,000 which cover nearly 50,000 square kilometers in the west of the country. The area has been dubbed the world’s “third pole,” as a result of the significant volume of ice it contains.
This region has increasingly garnered scientists’ attention as changes in glacial cover have gradually become more and more apparent. During this time, all but a few of the glaciers on the plateau have shrunk, with the greatest retreat occurring since the 1980s, seeing shrinkage of more than 6,500 sq. km.
The Hailuo valley and its glacier, on the eastern side of Mt. Gongga in the Tibetan region of Garze on the south-east edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The Hailuogou glacier has retreated over 2 kilometres during the 20th Century alone. Garze Tibetan area. Sichuan Province, China. 2012
Flanked on either side by lush forests, the Hailuogou glacier is one of China’s 8,500 monsoonal temperate glaciers which make up nearly 20 percent of the country’s total glaciers. They are characterized as being found at lower altitudes of between 3,000 to 5,000 meters and are more sensitive to climate change than polar or continental glaciers.
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