A Glacier as Close to the Equator as Tampa Is in Peril

Checking in on China's Baishui No. 1 Glacier
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 22, 2018 1:43 PM CDT
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In this photo taken May 2018, and released by Yulong Snow Mountain Glacier and Environmental Observation Research Station on Oct. 18, 2018, tourists gather on a platform above the Baishui Glacier No.1 on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China.   (Yulong Snow Mountain Glacier and Environmental Observation Research Station via AP)
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(Newser) – The loud crack rang out from the fog above the Baishui No. 1 Glacier as a stone shard careened down the ice, flying past Chen Yanjun. More projectiles were tumbling down the hulk of ice that scientists say is one of the world's fastest melting glaciers. "We should go," said the 30-year-old geologist. "The first rule is safety." Chen hiked away and onto a barren landscape once buried beneath the glacier. Now there is exposed rock littered with oxygen tanks discarded by tourists visiting the 15,000-foot-high blanket of ice in southern China. Millions of people each year are drawn to Baishui's frosty beauty on the southeastern edge of the Third Pole—a region in Central Asia with the world's third-largest store of ice after Antarctica and Greenland that's roughly the size of Texas and New Mexico combined.

Baishui is about as close to the equator as Tampa, Florida. And the impacts of climate change already are dramatic. The glacier has lost 60% of its mass and shrunk 820 feet since 1982, according to a 2018 report in the Journal of Geophysical Research. Scientists found in 2015 that 82% of glaciers surveyed in China had retreated. They warned that the effects of glacier melting on water resources are gradually becoming "increasingly serious" for China. To protect the glacier, authorities have limited the number of visitors to 10,000 a day and have banned hiking on the ice. They plan to manufacture snow and to dam streams to increase humidity that slows melting, reports the AP. Read more about Third Pole glaciers and why they're vital to Asia's 10 largest rivers.

(Read more glacier stories.)

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