LHASA, April 22 (Xinhua) -- Since the 1950s, China's glaciers have retreated by about 7,600 square kilometers; around 18 percent. An average of 247 square kilometers of glacial ice has disappeared every year.
Even mountaineers on Mount Qomolangma seem surprised. "Qomolangma base camp, 5,200 meters above sea level, had been covered by thick ice, but now there is nothing but stones," Zhang Mingxing, director of Tibet's mountaineering administration center, told Xinhua.
His view was echoed by Kang Shichang of the institute of Tibetan Plateau research, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). He calculates that glaciers around the mountain have shrunk by 10 percent since 1974, evidenced in the fact that a glacial lake downstream of the mountain is now 13 times bigger.
China has more than 46,000 glaciers, mainly on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, about 14.5 percent of the world's total. Glaciers are not only a major reservoir of fresh water but an important part of the climate system. "They are sources of life for China's western arid regions," said Kang.
The melting glaciers will inevitably lead to ecological and environmental change. Liu Shiyin, who led a survey of China's glaciers, told Xinhua that, in the short term, retreating glaciers will release meltwater and create lakes, leading to disaster. Glacial lakes in Tibet were breached 15 times between the 1930s and 1990s, causing floods and mudslides.
Glacial melt is closely related to climate change, and the regional government of Tibet is doing all it can to cut emissions. Enterprises which invest in green energy including solar, wind and methane can enjoy tax privileges for up to eight years.
In addition to cutting emissions, Tibet has spent heavily to protect its environment.
Jiang Bai from the regional environmental protection department believes local governments are committed to ensuring clean water and blue sky in Tibet. Back in 2009, the State Council invested 15.5 billion yuan (about 2.5 billion U.S. dollars) in protecting Tibet's environment, Jiang said.
Although the money helps, it is not enough to stop glaciers from retreating, said Kang Shichang.
Kang wants more research on glaciers and climate change, and better use of the meltwater. A warning system on glacier lakes is needed to protect local people.
"If glaciers do not have ice and mountains do not have snow, what will our lives become? Humans must make every effort to protect nature and co-exist with it," said monk Ngawang Doa from a monastery on the foot of Mount Qomolangma.