DATE: October 21, 2017
SNIP: Li scrambles over a frozen ridge and heads toward a lone pole wedged in the ice. Clouds emerge from a peak above and quickly blow past. He stops to catch his breath. He is at 14,000 feet. The snow is thick. The air is thin.
“This is called a sight rod,” he says, grasping the pole. “We come up here each month to check it, to see how fast the glacier’s melting. Each year, the glacier is 15 feet thinner.”
In the past 50 years, says Li, the average global temperature has risen by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). As a result, these glaciers — split from the original Tianshan No. 1 glacier into No. 1 East and No. 1 West — are retreating by around 30 feet each year.
At the rate global temperatures are rising, some 55 percent of all the glaciers in Xinjiang — nearly 11,000 — will be gone within 50 years.
“Even if global temperatures stop rising, this glacier will continue to melt,” says scientist Li, atop the Tianshan No. 1 East glacier. “So, no, it’s impossible to save it.“