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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: July 2018

8 - The Third Pole


The ‘term Third Pole’ refers to its cold climate, extensive ice cover and permafrost. It comprises the 4500 m-high Tibetan Plateau with the Kun Lun mountains, the mountain ranges of Central Asia (Pamir, Tien Shan, Qilian Shan) to the north and the Karakorum-Himalaya to the south, with extensive ice cover. The climate is very cold in winter and 0-10 °C in summer. There has been a warming trend since the 1970s. Precipitation decreases from southeast to northwest. The monsoon affects the south and mid-latitudes westerlies the north. Glaciers and ice caps cover 113,000 km2, and are generally retreating. Shrinkage was greatest in the Himalaya and least in the Pamir. The Karakorum glaciers are in near balance. Glacier melt in headwaters provides 32-58 percent of annual flow, but this drops to 7-9 percent 40 km from the termini. The snow line is ~5800 m over the Tibet Plateau. The Plateau has 60-150 days with snow cover, which is mostly shallow and decreasing over much of the Plateau. The Plateau is underlain by continuous permafrost in the north and discontinuous in the south. Most is warm, thin and ice-poor.

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