Snow Mountains of Tibet. Photo: file

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Dharamshala – Scientists have discovered that the extreme climatic conditions of the Amazon have a direct impact on those of the Tibetan plateau. "We have been surprised to see how strongly climate extremes in the Amazon are connected to climate extremes in Tibet," said co-author Jurgen Kurths from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Scientists from China, Europe and Israel have found that climate change in the Amazon basin is having an impact on the Tibetan plateau, which is 20,000 kilometres away.

According to report, on 26 January 2023, scientists warned that extreme weather conditions in the Amazon rainforest could have a direct impact on those in the Tibetan plateau. The Tibetan rivers, which are crucial to the water security of millions of people, were close to a potentially disastrous "tipping point".

The Tibetan Plateau is the major resource of big rivers and a rich repository of indispensable freshwater resources that are shared across Asia. A large percentage of the world’s population depends upon rivers originating in Tibet, including the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween and Mekong rivers. Incomplete statistics show that there are more than ten rivers in Tibet with drainage areas greater than 10,000 square kilometers.

Tibet is also known as the ‘Water Tower of Asia’ as it serves as the source of ten major Asian river systems flowing into ten countries, including many of the most densely populated nations in the world: China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, Bangladesh, and Bhutan.

Co-author Jurgen Kurths from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, "We have been surprised to see how strongly climate extremes in the Amazon are connected to climate extremes in Tibet."

“Logging, road construction and warming are already today stressing the Amazon rainforest, and will likely do so even more in the future – and while the Amazon region is of course an important Earth system element by itself, it’s also a burning question if and how changes in that region could affect other parts of the world,” explains Jingfang Fan from Beijing Normal University, China, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.

“For the first time, we have now been able to robustly identify and quantify these so-called teleconnections. Our research confirms that Earth system tipping elements are indeed inter-linked even over long distances and the Amazon is one key example of how this could play out,” Jingfang added.

Areas such as the rainforests of the Amazon basin could be submerged by water, while experts have noted that the melting of the polar ice caps could cause sea levels to rise by several metres.

The researchers detected the early warning signals based on the snow cover data and reveal that the Tibetan Plateau has been losing stability and approaching a tipping point since 2008. “This has been overlooked so far,” said Kurths. Despite its remote location, the Tibetan Plateau is relevant for a lot of people’s livelihoods due to its role as an important water reservoir.

“Our research underlines that tipping cascades are a risk to be taken seriously: inter-linked tipping elements in the Earth system can trigger each other, with potentially severe consequences,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber from PIK.

“To be clear, it’s unlikely that the climate system as a whole will tip. Yet, over time, sub-continental tipping events can severely affect entire societies and threaten important parts of the biosphere. This is a risk we should rather avoid. And we can do so by rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and by developing nature-based solutions for removing CO2 from the atmosphere,” the climatologist said.

According the report, the researchers used global near-surface temperature data over the past 40 years to map out a pathway of climate links.

In their research, the scientists found that temperatures rise in Tibet when it is warmer in the Amazon and that snowfall decreases in the Himalayan region when rainfall increases in the South American rainforest.