བོད་ས་མཐོ།, Wylie: bod sa mtho), also known
China as the Qinghai–
Tibet Plateau or the Qing–Zang
Plateau (Chinese: 青藏高原; pinyin: Qīng–Zàng Gāoyuán) or
Himalayan Plateau, is a vast elevated plateau in Central
Asia and East Asia, covering most of the
Tibet Autonomous Region
Tibet Autonomous Region and
Qinghai in western China, as well as part
Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, India. It stretches approximately
1,000 kilometres (620 mi) north to south and 2,500 kilometres
(1,600 mi) east to west. With an average elevation exceeding
4,500 metres (14,800 ft), the Tibetan
Plateau is sometimes called
"the Roof of the World" because it stands over 3 miles (4.8 km)
above sea level and is surrounded by imposing mountain ranges that
harbor the world's two highest summits,
Mount Everest and K2, and is
the world's highest and largest plateau, with an area of 2,500,000
square kilometres (970,000 sq mi) (about five times the size
of Metropolitan France). Sometimes termed the Third Pole, the
Plateau contains the headwaters of the drainage basins of most
of the streams in surrounding regions. Its tens of thousands of
glaciers and other geographical and ecological features serve as a
"water tower" storing water and maintaining flow. The impact of global
warming on the Tibetan
Plateau is of intense scientific
Geology and geological history
4 Human history
5 Impact on other regions
5.1 Role in monsoons
6 Glaciology: the Ice Age and at present
6.1 Effect of climate change
7 See also
9 External links
Plateau is surrounded by massive mountain ranges. The
plateau is bordered to the south by the inner Himalayan range, to the
north by the Kunlun Mountains, which separate it from the Tarim Basin,
and to the northeast by the Qilian Mountains, which separate the
plateau from the
Hexi Corridor and Gobi Desert. To the east and
southeast the plateau gives way to the forested gorge and ridge
geography of the mountainous headwaters of the Salween, Mekong, and
Yangtze rivers in northwest
Yunnan and western
Sichuan (the Hengduan
Mountains). In the west the curve of the rugged
Karakoram range of
Kashmir embraces the plateau. The
Indus River originates in
the western Tibetan
Plateau in the vicinity of Lake Manasarovar.
Tibetan Buddhist stupa and houses outside the town of Ngawa, on the
Plateau is bounded in the north by a broad escarpment
where the altitude drops from around 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) to
1,500 metres (4,900 ft) over a horizontal distance of less than
150 kilometres (93 mi). Along the escarpment is a range of
mountains. In the west the
Kunlun Mountains separate the plateau from
the Tarim Basin. About halfway across the Tarim the bounding range
Altyn-Tagh and the Kunluns, by convention, continue
somewhat to the south. In the 'V' formed by this split is the western
part of the Qaidam Basin. The
Altyn-Tagh ends near the Dangjin pass on
Golmud road. To the west are short ranges called the
Danghe, Yema, Shule, and Tulai Nanshans. The easternmost range is the
Qilian Mountains. The line of mountains continues east of the plateau
as the Qinling, which separates the Ordos
Plateau from Sichuan. North
of the mountains runs the Gansu or
Hexi Corridor which was the main
silk-road route from
China proper to the West.
The plateau is a high-altitude arid steppe interspersed with mountain
ranges and large brackish lakes. Annual precipitation ranges from 100
to 300 millimetres (3.9 to 11.8 in) and falls mainly as hail. The
southern and eastern edges of the steppe have grasslands which can
sustainably support populations of nomadic herdsmen, although frost
occurs for six months of the year.
Permafrost occurs over extensive
parts of the plateau. Proceeding to the north and northwest, the
plateau becomes progressively higher, colder and drier, until reaching
Changtang region in the northwestern part of the plateau.
Here the average altitude exceeds 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) and
winter temperatures can drop to −40 °C (−40 °F). As a
result of this extremely inhospitable environment, the Changthang
region (together with the adjoining Kekexili region) is the least
populous region in Asia, and the third least populous area in the
Antarctica and northern Greenland.
NASA satellite image of the south-eastern area of Tibetan Plateau.
Brahmaputra River is in the lower right.
Geology and geological history
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (January
Geology of the Himalaya
Yamdrok Lake is one of the three largest sacred lakes in Tibet.
The geological history of the Tibetan
Plateau is closely related to
that of the Himalayas. The
Himalayas are among the youngest mountain
ranges on the planet and consist mostly of uplifted sedimentary and
metamorphic rock. Their formation is a result of a continental
collision or orogeny along the convergent boundary between the
Indo-Australian Plate and the Eurasian Plate.
The collision began in the Upper
Cretaceous period about 70 million
years ago, when the north-moving Indo-Australian Plate, moving at
about 15 cm (6 in) per year, collided with the Eurasian
Plate. About 50 million years ago, this fast moving Indo-Australian
plate had completely closed the Tethys Ocean, the existence of which
has been determined by sedimentary rocks settled on the ocean floor,
and the volcanoes that fringed its edges. Since these sediments were
light, they crumpled into mountain ranges rather than sinking to the
floor. The Indo-Australian plate continues to be driven horizontally
below the Tibetan Plateau, which forces the plateau to move upwards;
the plateau is still rising at a rate of approximately 5 mm
(0.2 in) per year.
Much of the Tibetan
Plateau is of relatively low relief. The cause of
this is debated among geologists. Some argue that the Tibetan Plateau
is an uplifted peneplain formed at low altitude, while others argue
that the low relief stems from erosion and infill of topographic
depressions that occurred at already high elevations.
Plateau supports a variety of ecosystems, most of them
classified as montane grasslands. While parts of the plateau feature
an alpine tundra-like environment, other areas feature
monsoon-influenced shrublands and forests.
Species diversity is
generally reduced on the plateau due to the elevation of low
precipitation. The Tibetan
Plateau hosts species of gray wolf, snow
leopard, wild yak, wild donkey, cranes, vultures, hawks, geese,
snakes, and water buffalo. One notable animal is the high-altitude
jumping spider, that can live at elevations of over 6,500 metres
Ecoregions found on the Tibetan Plateau, as defined by the World Wide
Fund for Nature, are as follows:
The Pamir alpine desert and tundra covers the western end of the
Plateau where it transitions to the Pamir Mountains
The North Tibetan Plateau-
Kunlun Mountains alpine desert covers the
northwestern limits of the Tibetan
Plateau along the Kunlun Mountains
The Karakoram-West Tibetan
Plateau alpine steppe covers the
westernmost parts of the Tibetan
Plateau and Ladakh
Northwestern Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows on the edges
mountains bordering the extreme west of the Tibetan Plateau
The Central Tibetan
Plateau alpine steppe covers most of the central
portions of the Tibetan
Plateau and the eastern Changtang
Western Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows
Western Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows covers the southwestern
plateau in the Garuda Valley region
Qaidam Basin semi-desert located in the
Qaidam Basin on the
northern Tibetan Plateau
Qilian Mountains subalpine meadows covering the Qilian Mountains
in the northernmost portions of the plateau
Qilian Mountains conifer forests covering parts of the mountain
ranges in the northeastern Tibetan Plateau
Plateau alpine shrub and meadows covering a swath of the
central and northeastern Tibetan Plateau
The Yarlung Tsangpo arid steppe in the
Yarlung Tsangpo River
Yarlung Tsangpo River Valley,
where most of the permanent human population on the Tibetan Plateau
Eastern Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows
Eastern Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows cover the southern
Plateau on the north side of the Himalayas
Southeast Tibet shrub and meadows
Southeast Tibet shrub and meadows cover the southeastern and
eastern parts of the plateau and are generally rainier than the other
Northeastern Himalayan subalpine conifer forests
Northeastern Himalayan subalpine conifer forests reach up mountain
valleys in the southern plateau and contain some of the highest
altitude forests in the world
Nujiang Langcang Gorge alpine conifer and mixed forests
Nujiang Langcang Gorge alpine conifer and mixed forests cover the
mountain valleys that reach 500 km (310 mi) into the
southeastern Tibetan Plateau
Hengduan Mountains subalpine conifer forests cover the
southeasternmost mountain valleys on the plateau
Qionglai-Minshan conifer forests
Qionglai-Minshan conifer forests cover the eastern edges of the
plateau and are the densest forests to be found anywhere on the
Pastoral nomads camping near Namtso.
Main article: History of Tibet
Nomads on the Tibetan
Plateau and in the
Himalayas are the remainders
of nomadic practices historically once widespread in
Africa. Pastoral nomads constitute about 40% of the ethnic Tibetan
population. The presence of nomadic peoples on the plateau is
predicated on their adaptation to survival on the world's grassland by
raising livestock rather than crops, which are unsuitable to the
terrain. Archaeological evidence suggests that the colonization
leading to the full-time occupation of the plateau occurred much later
than the previously thought 30,000 years ago.[who?]
Since colonization of the Tibetan Plateau,
Tibetan culture has adapted
and flourished in the western, southern, and eastern regions of the
plateau. The northern portion, the Changtang, is generally too high
and cold to support permanent population. One of the most notable
civilizations to have developed on the Tibetan
Plateau is the Tibetan
Empire from the 7th century to the 9th century AD.
Impact on other regions
Role in monsoons
Main article: Monsoon
Natural-colour satellite image of the Tibetan Plateau
Monsoons are caused by the different amplitudes of surface temperature
seasonal cycles between land and oceans. This differential warming
happens because heating rates differ between land and water. Ocean
heating is distributed vertically through a "mixed layer" that may be
fifty meters deep through the action of wind and buoyancy-generated
turbulence, whereas the land surface conducts heat slowly, with the
seasonal signal penetrating only a meter or so. Additionally, the
specific heat capacity of liquid water is significantly greater than
that of most materials that make up land. Together, these factors mean
that the heat capacity of the layer participating in the seasonal
cycle is much larger over the oceans than over land, with the
consequence that the land warms and cools faster than the ocean. In
turn, air over the land warms faster and reaches a higher temperature
than does air over the ocean. The warmer air over land tends to
rise, creating an area of low pressure. The pressure anomaly then
causes a steady wind to blow toward the land, which brings the moist
air over the ocean surface with it. Rainfall is then increased by the
presence of the moist ocean air. The rainfall is stimulated by a
variety of mechanisms, such as low-level air being lifted upwards by
mountains, surface heating, convergence at the surface, divergence
aloft, or from storm-produced outflows near the surface. When such
lifting occurs, the air cools due expansion in lower pressure, which
in turn produces condensation and precipitation.
In winter, the land cools off quickly, but the ocean maintains the
heat longer. The hot air over the ocean rises, creating a low-pressure
area and a breeze from land to ocean while a large area of drying high
pressure is formed over the land, increased by wintertime cooling.
Monsoons are similar to sea and land breezes, a term usually referring
to the localized, diurnal cycle of circulation near coastlines
everywhere, but they are much larger in scale, stronger and
seasonal. The seasonal monsoon wind shift and weather associated
with the heating and cooling of the Tibetan plateau is the strongest
such monsoon on Earth.
Glaciology: the Ice Age and at present
Himalayas as seen from space looking south from over the Tibetan
Tibet is an important heating surface of the atmosphere.
However, during the Last Glacial Maximum, an approximately 2,400,000
square kilometres (930,000 sq mi) ice sheet covered the
plateau. Due to its great extent, this glaciation in the
subtropics was an important element of radiative forcing. With a much
lower latitude, the ice in
Tibet reflected at least four times more
radiation energy per unit area into space than ice at higher
latitudes. Thus, while the modern plateau heats the overlying
atmosphere, during the Last Ice Age it helped to cool it.
This cooling had multiple effects on regional climate. Without the
thermal low pressure caused by the heating, there was no monsoon over
the Indian subcontinent. This lack of monsoon caused extensive
rainfall over the Sahara, expansion of the Thar Desert, more dust
deposited into the Arabian Sea, and a lowering of the biotic life
zones on the Indian subcontinent. Animals responded to this shift in
climate, with the
Javan rusa migrating into India.
In addition, the glaciers in
Tibet created meltwater lakes in the
Qaidam Basin, the Tarim Basin, and the Gobi Desert, despite the strong
evaporation caused by the low latitude. Silt and clay from the
glaciers accumulated in these lakes; when the lakes dried at the end
of the ice age, the silt and clay were blown by the downslope wind off
the Plateau. These airborne fine grains produced the enormous amount
of loess in the Chinese lowlands.
Effect of climate change
Plateau contains the world's third-largest store of ice.
Qin Dahe, the former head of the
China Meteorological Administration,
issued the following assessment in 2009:
Temperatures are rising four times faster than elsewhere in China, and
the Tibetan glaciers are retreating at a higher speed than in any
other part of the world. [...] In the short term, this will cause
lakes to expand and bring floods and mudflows. [...] In the long run,
the glaciers are vital lifelines for Asian rivers, including the Indus
and the Ganges. Once they vanish, water supplies in those regions will
be in peril.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tibetan Plateau.
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Wayback Machine (archived 19
Protected areas of the Tibetan
"North Tibetan Plateau-
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Contemporary lifestyle and language learning center from
the official language of Tibetan. podcast.
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