The Tibetan Plateau, Asia’s water tower, threatened by global warming

The Tibetan Plateau, Asia’s water tower, threatened by global warming

The resources of the Tibetan Plateau, which is considered the water tower of Asia, will sharply decrease in the 21st century due to global warming, posing a significant risk of water shortages, according to a study published on Monday.

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Due to the increasingly hot and humid climate, the Tibetan Plateau has been losing a little more than 10 billion tons of water annually since 2002, according to the study by researchers in China and the United States.

The monsoon-filled reservoirs of the Tibetan Plateau supply water to much of southern China and northern India. The plateau is home to the headwaters of major Asian rivers — including the Mekong, Brahmaputra, Indus, and Yangtze — and feeds nearly two billion people.

In a scenario in which carbon emissions remain at current levels before gradually declining after 2050, the researchers concluded that two river basins were particularly affected by their dwindling resources.

Central Asia’s largest river, the Amu Darya, may not be able to meet 119% of current water needs, leaving people suffering from water shortages. The Indus, a major river in South Asia crossing Pakistan from north to south, will fail to meet 79% of current needs.

The study’s authors recommend governments rely on other forms of water supply, including increased abstraction from groundwater, to prevent shortages.

All is not lost, however, “a significant reduction in CO2 emissions over the next decade” would limit global warming and “the predicted collapse of water towers on the Tibetan Plateau,” says Michael Mann, one of the study’s authors and faculty chair in Science, Sustainability and Media from Pennsylvania State University.

“But even in an optimistic scenario, losses are inevitable and will require profound adjustments to the dwindling water resources in this densely populated region of the world. It’s hard to say what that will bring…but we’re navigating choppy waters,” Mr Mann told AFP.