Pollutants brought in by monsoon winds from South Asia — and not industrial emissions from China — are behind the melting of glaciers on the Tibetan plateau, a leading Chinese scientist has claimed.

Yao Tandong, director of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research at the official Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), warned that “about 90 per cent” of the glaciers on the plateau — known as the world’s “third pole” — were shrinking.

The process, he claimed, was being “accelerated by black carbon being transferred from South Asia to the Tibetan Plateau”, as reported in the state-run China Daily newspaper.

An investigation by researchers at CAS, using topographic maps and satellite images, had revealed “the retreat of 82 glaciers, area reduction by 7,090 glaciers and the mass-balance change of 15 glaciers”, the newspaper said.

Location-specific

Mr. Yao said there were “systematic differences” in the status of glaciers according to their location, with the most pronounced retreat observed in the southeastern Himalayan region.

“Some of the glaciers there”, he warned, “are very likely to disappear by 2030”. He said the shrinkage decreased from the Himalayas to the interior of the continent, with the smallest reductions in the western part, where some glaciers were also expanding.

The Chinese scientist said there were “two prevailing views” in the past: firstly, that pollution was not a factor; and secondly, that most pollutants came from the east, from China.

“But the latest investigations”, he claimed, “now show that black carbon generated from industrial production in South Asia is being taken to the Tibetan Plateau by the Indian monsoon in spring and summer”.

“The accumulation of black carbon on the plateau”, he added, “will accelerate the shrinking of glaciers, bringing with it persistent organic pollutants that will be deposited in the soil”.