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Tibet Moving on Climate Change Threat

Since the 1990s, rising water levels in lakes have submerged 106,667 hectares of pastureland as well as more than 3,000 livestock pens in total. Nearly 1,400 households in Nagqu had to rebuild their homes. More than 1,000 households, or nearly 6,000 people, are still living under the threat of flooding.

"In winter, water seeped into our house and around the stove and froze," said Penpa Tashi from Namarche County in Nagqu. "When summer came and the ice melted, the stink of yak dung filled the house. Because of the flooding, our house might collapse at any time, so we have to move."

Nagqu prefecture deputy chief Gyaltsen Wangdrak has kept a close eye on the weather changes, accumulating data on how much damage the extreme weather fluctuations have caused to both the local economy and the herders over the past decade.

In 2003, Gyaltsen met Lin Erda, a senior researcher of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. They pooled together a 1.3 million yuan fund - with 800,000 yuan from Lin and 500,000 from the local Nagqu government - to study the long-term effects of global warming on Nagqu's grasslands.

Over the course of 12 months, they mapped the degradation of grassland in Nagqu with remote sensing technology. The map showed that nearly half of Nagqu's alpine grassland had degraded. The affected area covers about 20 million hectares, with 10 percent, or 4 million hectares, seriously degraded.

Based on this information, the prefecture started two experiments in Amdo county at the foot of Tanggula Mountain to restore seriously degraded grassland through sprinkler irrigation and reseeding. The goal is to quadruple the amount of grass from 600 kg to 2,400 kg per hectare.

The prefecture has also leased from local herders some 33 hectares of healthy grassland and 20 sheep at 15,000 yuan a year to study how much grass an animal needs annually.

Through this research, Gyaltsen and scientists are hoping to come up with more scientific figures on how to raise livestock on alpine grassland.

"It will take many years to complete the experiments," Gyaltsen said. "But we have to persist. All the people living on the plateau face unprecedented changes from global warming. No one knows how to deal with it.

"We have to blaze a trail."

(China Daily October 7, 2008)

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