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Climate Change Leads to Water Imbalance and Conflicts on the Tibetan Plateau

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Climate change is putting enormous pressure on the world’s water resources and, according to the researchers, the Tibetan plateau suffers from such an extreme water imbalance that it could lead to an increase in international conflicts.

Nicknamed “the third pole”, the Tibetan Plateau and the neighboring Himalayas are home to the world’s largest reservoir of frozen water outside the northern and southern polar regions. This region, also known as the Asian Water Tower (AWT), functions as a complex water distribution system that supplies vital fluid to several countries, including parts of China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Yet, due to the rapid melting of snow and glaciers upstream, the region cannot sustainably support the continued growth of developing countries dependent on it.

“Populations are growing so rapidly, and so is the demand for water,” said lonnie thompsonDistinguished University Professor of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University and Senior Researcher at the University Byrd Polar Research Center. “These issues can lead to increased risks of international and even intra-national conflicts, and in the past they have done so.”

Thompson, who has studied climate change for nearly five decades, knows intimately the precarious nature of the region’s hydrological situation. In 1984, Thompson became a member of the first Western team sent to investigate glaciers in China and Tibet. Since then, he and a team of international colleagues have spent years studying climate records derived from ice cores and the region’s rapid ice retreat and the impact it has had on local settlements that depend of the AWT for their freshwater needs.

The team’s latest paper, of which Thompson is a co-author, was published in the journal Nature Earth and Environment Magazines. Using temperature change data from 1980 to 2018 to track regional warming, their findings found that the AWT’s global temperature has been increasing at about 0.42 degrees Celsius per decade, about twice the rate world average.

“This has huge implications for glaciers, especially those in the Himalayas,” Thompson said. “Overall, we’re losing water on the set, about 50% more water than we’re gaining.” This shortage is the cause of an alarming water imbalance: the northern regions of Tibet often experience an overabundance of water resources, as more rainfall occurs due to stronger westerly winds, while the river basins and southern water supplies are shrinking as drought and rising temperatures contribute to water loss downstream.

According to the study, because many vulnerable societies border these downstream basins, this growing disparity could exacerbate conflicts or exacerbate already tense situations between the countries that share these river basins, such as long-term struggles over irrigation and the water between India and Pakistan.

“The way the regional climate varies, there are winners and losers,” Thompson said. “But we must learn to work together to ensure an adequate and equitable water supply throughout this region.” As local temperatures continue to rise and water resources are depleted, more and more people will eventually face increasingly tight water supplies, he said.

Yet overall increases in precipitation alone will not be enough to meet the increased water demands of downstream regions and countries.

To combat this, the study recommends using more comprehensive water monitoring systems in data-sparse areas, noting that better atmospheric and hydrological models are needed to help predict what is happening to water. regional water supply. Lawmakers should then use these observations to help develop concrete policies for sustainable water management, Thompson said. If policymakers decide to heed the advice of scientists, these new policies could be used to develop adaptation measures for the AWT through collaboration between upstream and downstream countries.

After all, when things go wrong in one part of the world, like butterfly Effect, they tend to have lasting effects on the rest of Earth’s population. “Climate change is a global process,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t matter what country or what part of the world you come from. Sooner or later you will have a similar problem.

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