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Chinese scientists cover glaciers with blankets to stop melting

Chinese scientists cover glaciers with blankets to stop melting

by Esha Kalam
|October 5, 2023

Dagu Glacier is one of the most popular glacier tourist attractions in China. ( Flick)

Dagu Glacier is one of the most visited glaciers in Tibet, China. cover with white sheets, also called geotextiles, in an attempt to slow their melting. Scientists from Nanjing University are leading the effort, installing white reflective materials on more than 400 square meters of glacier in southwest China’s Sichuan Province in July.

The project started with Dagu which is The largest glacier tourist attraction China’s glaciers, as well as other glaciers around China, are facing severe melting due to rising temperatures. Over the past 50 years, the glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau where the Dagu River is located have Shrunk by about 15%According to research from the Tibetan Plateau Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The work is funded by the video game giant Tencent Holdings Carbon Neutral Laboratory, as part of the company’s stated goal to be a leader in encouraging sustainable development in society.The company said it is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and is seeking to nourish According to its website, Sustainability Innovation goes beyond its own goals.

Although glacier blankets are a novel approach to Tibetan glacier protection, they have been used in the past, mostly in European ski resorts.Rhone glacier in Switzerland, glacier Secondblanket already Installed Seasonally for last 13 Year Trying to protect ski areas and tourism.

in a Article published by TencentZhu Bin, a materials scientist at Nanjing University who led the work, said local communities welcomed the attempt to protect the glacier.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the local community over the past few years,” Bing said. “Protecting glaciers is more important than ever as it supports entire ecosystems and the livelihoods of local people.”

The use of blankets in other areas has caused controversy because A lot of people criticized them Because they lack long-term viability. Blankets are generally difficult to scale up and do not protect glaciers from warming effects for long periods of time.

“It’s kind of hopeless,” said Maury Pelto, an environmental science professor at Nichols College who studies glaciers. “If you only cover a small part of the glacier, [rest] It’s melting. This cannot sustain your operations. “

There are some obstacles depending on the region, including higher elevation glaciers that are more difficult to reach. Coupled with the high cost of the project, many say geotextiles offer too little, too late.

a study last published Year in diary remote sensing A study by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences shows that coverings installed in parts of the Dagu Glacier can effectively slow down the melting rate, with the covered area reducing mass loss by 15% compared to the uncovered area. However, as the study points out, high cost, harsh geography and the aging of the textiles limit the feasibility of using blankets over a wide area. Geotextile must be installed manually, and many glaciers are located in hard-to-reach areas. Although the textiles used in this project are designed to be environmentally friendly, According to researcherssthey are still made from materials that produce carbon emissions.

While glacier blankets cannot stop melting, some say they can be an effective visual reminder of the impacts of climate change, especially in heavily touristed areas like the Dagu Glacier. “I think it’s actually more of a visual reminder to tourists and recreationists that climate change is having an impact on these areas,” said Mark Carey, a historian at the University of Oregon who studies glacier retreat and climate change. “This is an educational tool.”

Researchers on the project team realized that the glacier blanket could only do so much. “All the human interventions we’re looking at, even if they prove to be effective, are just going to slow things down. [the melting],” Bin said. “If the Earth continues to warm, eventually there will be no way to protect glaciers forever.”

Esha Karam is a GlacierHub staff writer and a junior at Columbia College majoring in sustainability and economics.

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