Assessing the past, present and future of the Third Pole environment

Assessing the past, present, and future of the third pole environment
Changes in the Third Pole Environment. Credit: TPE

The Third Pole, which encompasses the Tibetan Plateau and its surrounding mountain ranges, is the third largest reservoir of ice and snow after the North and South poles.

Its 100,000 km2 of glaciers supply freshwater to thousands of lakes and rivers, sustaining the lives of over 2 billion people. The region is also home to some of Earth's most biodiverse ecosystems. However, it is changing rapidly due to climate change caused by human activity.

In an attempt to raise awareness of this change, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has recently published a scientific assessment of the Third Pole environment in cooperation with the UNEP-International Ecosystem Management Partnership, the Third Pole Environment (TPE), and the Pan-Third Pole Environment.

This comprehensive report condenses the latest knowledge about the Third Pole regarding climate, water systems, biodiversity, and the impact of human activity. It is also the first comprehensive assessment of the Third Pole environment.

In their review of the latest findings on the Third Pole's climate, freshwater bodies, ecosystems, biodiversity, land surface changes, and human impact on the region, the authors note that significant changes at the Third Pole are driving undesirable environmental changes at the local and global levels.

To get a full picture, the report traces environmental changes in the region over the past 2,000 years. Data derived from ice cores, lake sediment cores, and show that, since the 20th century, the warming and wetting of the Third Pole has become more pronounced, reaching record-setting average temperatures and precipitation. This is due to an acceleration of the warming rate by 0.3 °C per decade, which far surpasses the global warming average.

This trend has led to a marked increase in glacial melt over the past few decades along with expansion of the surface area of lakes and more river run-off. Together, these changes are increasing the frequency of natural disasters, such as ice collapses and glacial lake outburst floods, thus threatening local ecosystems and human lives alike.

Additionally, the Third Pole has become greener, with more vegetation coverage and, in turn, a surge in agriculture and farming. However, , infrastructure projects, and continue to threaten the Third Pole.

The report also analyzes the effects of beyond the Third Pole on the environment of the Third Pole itself. The authors point out that air pollution, such as and , make their way into the Third Pole through various climate phenomena, leading to accelerated glacial melt. This is due to a lack of coordination between the economic development of nearby regions and environmental protection.

In addition, the report makes predictions of environmental changes the Third Pole can expect, including a continued rise in temperature and precipitation, thus causing glaciers to melt and water bodies to expand, among other effects.

Citation: Assessing the past, present and future of the Third Pole environment (2022, June 14) retrieved 24 February 2024 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Explore further

Asian water towers on tighter budget despite a warmer and wetter climate


Feedback to editors