The Thirsty Dragon: Asia’s Melting Glaciers Might Lead To Future Conflicts

Via Science Times, a look at the potential that Asia’s melting glaciers might give rise to future conflicts over water:

A new study revealed the fact that over the past 50 years the glaciers in Asia’s Tian Shan mountains have lost more than a quarter of their total. At this rate, they lost about four times more than the global average during the same time, according to data published online in the Journal Nature Geoscience, on Monday (Aug 17).

 At this rate of ice loss, according to the team of researchers conducting the study, by the year 2050 half of the remaining ice in the Tian Shan glaciers could be lost. The most alarming fact is that these shrinking glaciers could further reduce valuable water supplies in the central Asia region. According to the study, this is a potentially dangerous situation that can easily lead to fuel conflicts in a region with unstable political regimes, low quality of living conditions and a growing population.

The Tian Shan mountain range occupies around 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometers) of central Asia. For now, melting glaciers and snow from these mountains provide a much-needed supply of water to the lowlands of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The territories of these three ex-Soviet republics form one of the largest irrigated zones in the world.

The melting glaciers also supplies water to the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region in northwestern China. The Chinese province represents a strategic resources supplier for China’s economy as well as for exports, being rich in natural gas, oil, and coal. The strategic natural resources reserves are considered by China’s political regime as being critical to the country’s economic growth. Glacier melt provides essential water supply in an otherwise dry environment.

“If water resources really will decline there in the future, there is a big potential for conflicts,” said the study’s lead author, According to Daniel Farinotti, a glaciologist at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest and Snow and the Landscape Research of the German Research Center for Geosciences and lead author of the study, there is a big potential for conflicts in the region if water resources will decline in the future.

Despite the growth of the populations depended on this important water supply, not much information about the conditions of glaciers in the Tian Shan is available for studies. This is the reason why the team of scientists led by Farinotti has chosen to focus on this research. According to them, it is important to estimate how these glaciers might change the economic, social, and political landscape in the region over the near future. Another research on this topic has been so far limited only to the past decade.

Farinotti and his colleagues analyzed data from the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE), in order to learn more about the Tian Shan glaciers. GRACE is a satellite launched in the year 2002 and jointly operated by theGerman Aerospace Center and NASA. The team of researchers also used available data from NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), launched in the year 2003. For further analysis of the data achieved the scientists also developed computer models of the Asian glaciers based on field observations from readings taken on glacier surfaces and snow pits.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 19th, 2015 at 8:36 pm and is filed under China.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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