The region covering the mighty Himalaya-Hindukush mountains and the Tibetan plateau happens to be the third largest ice-covered region on the planet falling behind the Arctic and the Antarctic regions. The Asian region, covered in ice and house to several glaciers, is thus nicknamed as the Third Pole. And like the other snow-covered regions on the planet, the glaciers in this region are not being spared by climate change and global warming. They are shrinking.
Quoting a Chinese study, The Washington Post recently reported that almost 18 per cent of China’s glaciers have melted over the last five decades. NewAtlas.com reports that Western China itself serves as a home to 48,571 glaciers covering an area of 51,840 sq km. Thus the results are alarming as the Third Pole is located near densely populated countries like India and China, unlike the Arctic and the Antarctic regions. While the shrinking of glaciers will affect the water supply and industrialisation in these areas, billions of people sprawled in these countries are bound to be adversely affected subsequently. The Indus River, for instance, is fed by the melting water from the Chinese glaciers.
Apart from global warming, another factor that aggravates the melting of glaciers in the Third Pole is air pollution. China and India are among the worst-ranked countries in air pollution. A Greenpeace report states that coal burning is the biggest contributor of air pollution in China and surrounding areas and if China wants to work on its problem of air pollution, it has to reduce its coal consumption. However, in a new study published in journal Nature Communications, researchers found out how black carbon acts as a catalyst in the melting of glaciers in the Third Pole region.
Black carbon is the particulate matter obtained after burning of fossil fuels and biomass. While it is most popularly known for causing health issues, the particulate matter also contributes towards the melting of glaciers in multiple ways. The black carbon absorbs sunlight and causes regional warming. Along with this, when these particles deposit on the ice surface, they darken the region, allowing the icy surface to absorb heat and melt faster.
Using “chemical fingerprinting”, researchers analysed what kind of burning produces the black carbon particles found all across the Third Pole. The results were astounding. Burning of fossil fuels along with biomass like animal dung and plant matter contribute gravely to the creation of black carbon particles. While most of the Tibetan Plateau was being directly affected by the fossil fuel burning in China, the black carbon found in the Himalayan region was mostly coming from northern India.
Researchers also noted that the sampled black carbon in the central part of the Tibetan plateau was coming from from biomass burning rather than fossil fuels. This could point towards the Tibetan practices like burning yak dung for cooking and heating. Researcher Shichang Kang, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research said it was “very surprising” that these processes were contributing more towards the melting of glaciers in certain parts of the region, The Washington Post reports.
The study could help controlling the situation since earmarks the areas that need to be worked upon. For instance, in the Tibetan region, the government could help the locals find alternatives to burning biomass. Similarly, industries in the vicinity could also formulate plans to reduce the black carbon production.