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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

The Conservation Alliance

The Third Pole Melts

The Third Pole Melts

Geogrpahic boundaries of The Third Pole (credit: The Third Pole Environment program)


The Tibetan plateau with elevations averaging 12,000 feet is often call The Third Pole. Next to the Arctic and Antarctic, this plateau holds the third largest storehouse of fresh water in the form of ice, glaciers, and permafrost on Earth. The Third Pole is melting rapidly and more moisture is falling as rain now due to the climate change. Re-photography by the Landsat Earth monitoring satellite re-captured images taken in 1987 that shows just how much has changed with the ice and water balance in less than 35 years.

The region stretches from the Pamir and Hindu Kush mountains in the west to the Hengduan mountains in the east and is bounded by the Kunlun and Qilian mountains on the north and the Himalayas to the south. The extent of the Tibetan plateau spreads across an area covering more than 1.6 million square miles in potions of multiple nations including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Tibet. The Bramaputra, Ganges, Indus, and Yangtze rivers all originate in the headwaters of these mountains that surround the vast plateau.

According to NASA:

Landsat images of lakes west of a small mountain range, the Tanggula mountains, in  central Tibet—offer a view of changes caused, in part, by glacial retreat. The earlier image was acquired in October 1987 while the second captured in October 2021 shows the same area. The two largest lakes—Chibzhang Co and Dorsoidong Co—have grown larger over this timeline as glaciers have thinned and shrunk. In the first image the two lakes are separated by a strip of land. The source of Dorsoidong Co’s meltwater comes from mountain glaciers. Investigators who analyzed multiple decades of Landsat imagery determined the lake's area grew by 23% between 1979 to 2017 from ice melting and increased rainfall in this region.

                  Tibetan plateau lakes, 10-12-1987 (credit: Landsat)

                Tibetan plateau lakes, 10-9-2021 (credit: Landsat)

The former Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay gave a recent TED presentation on The Third Pole and why it so important to his nation and billions others who live around the plateau.

It is often said that events stay in a place where they occur. At The Third Pole, what happens there definietly does not stay there. WHB

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