The impact of warming can be seen on a road that runs parallel to the line for much of its length. Trucks bump along its cracked and undulating surface, which is being ravaged by the freezing and thawing of the tundra beneath. Since the highway was built in the 1950s, the permafrost area has been shrinking and the layer above it, which is subject to seasonal thaw, has been getting deeper. The railway is vulnerable to the same process.
The vast and sparsely populated Tibetan plateau is the origin of the great river systems of China, South-East and South Asia: the Yangzi and Yellow Rivers, the Brahmaputra, the Indus, the Mekong and the Salween. The Ganges rises on the Indian side of the plateauís Himalayan rim. These rivers, fed by thousands of Himalayan glaciers, are an ecological miracle. They support some 1.3 billion people.
But the glaciers are retreating. Chinese experts predict that by 2050 the icy area on their side of the Himalayas will have shrunk by more than a quarter since 1950. Predictions for the Indian side are gloomier still. In April a leading Indian glaciologist, Professor Syed Iqbal Hasnain, measured the East Rathong glacier in lofty Sikkim state. It appeared to
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