Third Pole

There is a region to the south of China and the north of India that is known as the “Third Pole”.

That’s because it is the third largest area of frozen water on the planet. Although much smaller than its north and south counterparts, it is still enormous, covering 100,000 square kilometres with some 46,000 glaciers.

The importance of the Third Pole

The Earth’s north and south extremities are crucial for regulating the climate, and at the same time are particularly sensitive to global warming. The Third Pole, because it is high above sea level, is also sensitive to changes in temperatures.

It is estimated that the water that flows from the Third Pole supports 120 million people directly through irrigation systems, and a total of 1.3 billion indirectly through river basins in China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. That’s nearly one fifth of the world’s population.

The impact of climate change

In the last decade, the rate at which the Third Pole’s glaciers are melting has almost doubled. Research has also found that more than 500 small glaciers have disappeared altogether and the biggest ones are shrinking rapidly.

But global warming is not the only reason that the team found for the melting ice. Dust and pollution from car exhausts and coal burners is settling on the ice, causing it to absorb the rays of the sun, rather than reflect them away.

The Third Pole Environment is an international research program that launched in 2009 and focuses on the Tibetan Plateau and surrounding mountain ranges.

The effects will be felt much further than the area immediately surrounding the Third Pole. The continuous glacier melting will be catastrophic for the 1.3 billion people who depend on its water.

While initially more water is expected to pour into river basins, causing flooding, eventually that will dry up, resulting in drought and desertification.

In the end, only a reduction in black soot emissions, in addition to a reduction in greenhouse gases, will prevent the glaciers in this region from disappearing further.