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The Tibet Plateau Has Been The Scene of Much Climate Change

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 05/06/24; June 24, 2005.]

Beijing (AFP) Jun 23 - Rising temperatures on western China's Qinghai-Tibet Plateau may pose a threat to the world's highest railway, which is due to go into operation next year, state media said Thursday.

The landmark 26.2 billion yuan (3.16 billion dollar) project will link the western Qinghai province with Tibet, the first ever railway to the Himalayan region known as "the roof of the world".

"By 2050, safe operation of the Qinghai-Tibet railway will be affected if temperatures keep rising steadily as observed over the past decades," China Daily quoted a climatologist as saying at a symposium on climate change.

Winter and summer temperatures on the plateau may climb as much as 3.4 degrees Celsius by 2050, Luo Yong, deputy director of the National Climate Centre, was cited as saying. Such warming could cause frozen ground to thaw and threaten the railway.

Since the 1960s, frozen ground on both sides of the Qinghai-Tibet Highway has retreated five to nine kilometers (3.1 to 5.6 miles), with its area of frozen soil decreasing 12 to 13 percent, the China Daily said.

Climate change will also lead to the massive shrinking of glaciers, accelerated thawing of frozen earth and the early melting of spring snows, the China Daily quoted Luo saying.

Experts urged the Chinese government to pay close attention to the potential impact and called on scientists to conduct research on ways to protect the region's ecosystems.

Covering more than 360,000 square kilometers (14,400 square meters) at an average altitude of more than 4,000 meters (13,200 feet), the plateau is home to rare wild animals, such as the Tibetan antelope, and medicinal herbs.

Track laying for the 1,142-kilometre (713-mile) railway is set to be completed by the end of this year and it is expected to begin trial operation on July 1, 2006. Construction started in 2001.

Tibetan rights advocates charge that, while the railway could bring economic benefits, it is part of an effort to encourage Han Chinese migrants to settle in Tibet, which China brought under its control in 1951 following an invasion.

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