Human activity is accelerating the desertification of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. Now a major source of water for Asia, the Qinghai-Tibet plateau may well become one of the world’s major sources of sand in the future, Shanghai Morning Post’s Ge Zhihao reports.

“Erratic rainfall coupled with serious desertification; these may both be the ‘root cause’ of the problem,” said Dr Zhang Qianggong, research assistant at the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Institute of the China Academy of Sciences. He expressed that as the Qinghai-Tibet plateau is situated in the middle to upper reaches of the troposphere, the atmospheric conditions are severely unstable which allows sand and dust to enter the atmosphere and is having far-reaching effects.

In addition, the large shifting sand dunes and desertified land of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau also account for the increased sand and dust levels in the atmosphere. Now there are large and active sand dunes at the headlands of the Brahmaputra and its tributary valleys, the Yellow river and the Yangtze. Moreover, the area of desertified land has increased dramatically.

Song Lianchun and other scholars from the Lanzhou Research Institute of Arid Meteorology recently authored a paper, entitled “Research into the Temporal and Spatial Variations of Sandstorms in China, and the Place of Origin of Sand in Korea and Japan”. In this paper, they compare the monthly correlations between sandstorms in China and levels of sand in the atmosphere in Korea and Japan. They have speculated that the winter sand in the two countries most likely comes mainly from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Experts from the China Academy of Sciences claim that, if this continues to develop unchecked, then the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau may well become one of the major global sources of sand in the future.

The paper also discovered that, according to statistics on sand levels from 681 separate weather stations, the main areas affected by sandstorms in China are the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the arid and semi-arid regions of northern China. Among them, every year from December to the following March, the epicentre of the sandstorm area is concentrated on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and over time, that epicentre moves northwards. Compared to other sandstorm areas, it is easier for fine sand to rise to 5,500 metres above sea level in the plateau.

The western jet stream winds of this high region are the main force blowing fine sand and dust across large distances in Asia; so far in fact, that it can reach the distant northern Pacific region.

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