Posted by: shipbright | January 19, 2010

“Origins of rivers: Omens of a crisis” from the roof of the world…Tibetan Plateau series part 3

Fresh[water] Ideas for a Thirsty Planet got behind schedule last week with my regular postings.  I was in Washington, DC presenting at the National Invasive Species Awareness Week conference on global freshwater issues, invasive species and the “green economy”…we’ll visit that issue in the near future but needless to say the introduction of an invasive species in an ecosystem causes serious negative impacts on freshwater resources. 

But for now back to the “Roof of the World” and the Tibetan Plateau series…

Most of the legendary rivers of Asia begin with a snowflake at the roof of the world.  The snows of the Himalayas, Karakoram, Kunlun, Altyn-Tagh, and Gobi mountain ranges have created vast glaciers whose runoff begins the long journey of freshwater to the pacific and Indian oceans.  Since recorded time the seasonal rhythms of receiving snow and giving of melt water has held life in balance for all who live “downstream”.  Over 40% of the world’s population is sustained by these waters…for now.  But we have a developing problem–the demand for water because of population growth and pollution of existing water supplies is overdrawing current supplies.  To make things worse,  the “supply” itself is running out of water to give.

 The map…shows six of the worlds largest rivers draining from the Plateau: the Indus (Gar) drains the southwest, the Bramaputra (Yarlung Tsangpo) drains the southern and southeastern area, the Salween (Nu), Mekong (Lancang) and Yangtze (Jinsha) drain the central and eastern areas, and Yellow (Huang) drains the northeastern area. The northern and northwestern areas have no external drainage and are characterized by many large lakes. The plateau is occupied by about four million Tibetans who raise yaks and sheep on tundra above the timberline, but over half of the worlds population lives in the drainage basins of these six rivers. There are numerous fault bounded ranges within the Plateau, many of which have peaks over 20,000′. Like the rivers, in the western and central plateau they trend east-west, slowly changing to a northerly trend towards the eastern edge of the Plateau near the Qinghai-Sichuan border. [courtesy of shangri-la-river-expeditions.com]

An organization who is monitoring these issues on the Tibetan Plateau is the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society headquartered in New York City. 

In 2006 the late American philanthropist Arthur Ross founded the Center at the Asia Society. In the words of Arthur Ross, “At this particular point in history, it is critical that a Center be created to deal with one of the most important developments in the world today, the rise of China. It is my intention that the Center will study and promote this relationship on multiple levels and perspectives.”

The Center has a number of initiatives including:

  • The Initiative for U.S.-China Cooperation on Energy and Climate
  • China Green
  • The Glacial Research Imaging Project
  • The China Boom Project

The video documentation of the deglaciation of the Tibetan plateau and water supply for the major rivers whose source is in the plateau is wonderful.  Their presentation of the information, which includes interviews with herdsmen, brings together traditional knowledge and scientific rigor/process. 

One thing I have learned in my life is to pay attention to “traditional knowledge”…it is born of countless generations reaching back before recorded time when survival meant being close to the rhythms and flow of the natural environment.  Today many have lost that connection but it still lives on in our farmers, fishermen and herdsmen who live close to the land and who by economic necessity know the wisdom of ancient knowledge. 

Below is a video from the Center…I plan on posting more of their work as it’s the most informative information for a wide-ranging global audience I’ve found in my research.  Though the Center was founded by an American Philanthropist and the information presented seems as fact based and non-biased as I can find, I am wary of any possible influence the Chinese Government may have on the Center. If anyone has information on this matter I would appreciate you emailing me.  With that reservation said here’s “Origins of Rivers: Omens of a Crisis”.

“As the source of most of the major river systems in Asia from China to Pakistan, including the Yellow, the Yangtze, the Mekong, the Salween, the Brahmaputra, the Ganges and the Indus, the Tibetan Plateau has become an epicenter of crisis. With the retreating of its glaciers – what glaciologist Lonnie Thompson has called the “fresh water bank account” of Asia – rivers and lakes have started running lower, pastures have become drier, deserts larger, weather patterns more unpredictable. Indeed, the whole ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau and its hinterland are now slipping toward a catastrophic environmental disaster which will have continental implications far beyond the plateau itself.”

“All is born of water, all is sustained by water”–Goethe

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Responses

  1. […] The map…shows six of the worlds largest rivers draining from the Plateau: the Indus (Gar) drains the southwest, the Bramaputra (Yarlung Tsangpo) drains the southern and southeastern area, the Salween (Nu), Mekong (Lancang) and Yangtze (Jinsha) drain the central and eastern areas, and Yellow (Huang) drains the northeastern area. The northern and northwestern areas have no external drainage and are characterized by many large lakes. The plateau is occupied by about four million Tibetans who raise yaks and sheep on tundra above the timberline, but over half of the worlds population lives in the drainage basins of these six rivers. […]

  2. HAHAHA that’s your face on James Bond!


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