The Tibetan plateau is heating up by 0.3°C each decade. At more than twice the worldwide average, according to a new study from the Tibet Meteorological Bureau, as reported by New Scientist. The research reinforces a growing realization that high altitudes in tropical regions are experiencing dramatic temperature increases similar to those at the poles. Over the last 50 years, temperatures in the Arctic and Antarctica have risen by 0.2°C and approximately 0.5°C per decade, respectively, according to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The reason surface temperatures at the poles are warming so quickly is because the seawater temperature around them has risen faster there than anywhere else on Earth. Warming waters also play a role in the tropics. When the already warm tropical waters heat up further, due to global warming, they evaporate even more moisture, which rises straight to the upper atmosphere.
In 2000, researchers published a study looking at temperature changes on the Tibetan plateau since the 1950s, which found that temperature was not only increasing with time, but also with elevation across the plateau. They concluded the plateau is one of the most sensitive areas in the world in its response to global climate change. A study published in 2006 in Science found similar increases in air temperature at high-elevation weather stations in the Andes.
The Tibetan Plateau is also one of John Schellnhuber’s tipping points, reported on in Mother Jones “The Thirteenth Tipping Point.” Check out what happens when it tips. JULIA WHITTY