Glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau – the source of rivers such as the Brahmaputra – have shrunk by as much as 15 per cent, retreating by 8,000 square kilometres since 1980, according to a new Chinese government-backed study.

The decades-long study conducted by the official Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) discovered that the perennial frozen earth on the Tibetan plateau had also shrunk by 16 per cent over the past 30 years.

The study attributes the retreat of glaciers and thawing of frozen earth to global warming, suggesting a significant impact on the water security of the subcontinent. Rivers such as the Brahmaputra have their source on the Tibetan plateau, where it flows as the Yarlung Zangbo before turning at “the great bend” and entering India.

CAS researchers found that the volume of frozen earth on the plateau had decreased “from 1.5 million to 1.26 million square kilometres”.

Researchers used remote sensing and satellite monitoring in their decades-long study, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The research paper, Xinhua reported, attributed the changes to “an immediate result of global warming” and warned that the plateau was “extremely vulnerable to climate change”.

Meteorological data suggested that the average temperature on the plateau had risen by 1.8 degrees over the past three decades, higher than China’s national average temperature rise.

Researchers were quoted as saying the glacial retreat had accelerated since the 1990s. Jin Huijun, a scientist at the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute of the CAS, said the changes were "detrimental to the plateau vegetation and will worsen the plateau ecology in the long term".