The glaciers of the Tibetan plateau have retreated by about 7,600 square kilometers, or approximately 18 percent since the 1950s, reports China state news agency Xinhua. That translates to an average of 247 square kilometers of glacial ice vanishing every year.

"Qomolangma base camp, 5,200 meters above sea level, had been covered by thick ice, but now there is nothing but stones," Zhang Mingxing, director of Tibet's mountaineering administration center, told Xinhua, referring to the area around Mount Everest.

Kang Shichang of the institute of Tibetan Plateau research, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), has calculated that glaciers around Mount Everest have decreased by 10 percent since 1974. As a result, a glacial lake downstream of the mountain has increased in size by a factor of 13.

China has more than 46,000 glaciers, mainly on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which accounts for some 14.5 percent of the world's total, reports Xinhua. Glaciers provide major reservoirs of fresh water, and are an important part of the climate system.

Glaciers "are sources of life for China's western arid regions," said Kang.

In the short term, the shrinking glaciers will release meltwater and create lakes, and will inevitably lead to ecological and environmental change. Liu Shiyin, who led a survey of China's glaciers, told Xinhua that Glacial lakes in Tibet were breached 15 times between the 1930s and 1990s, causing floods and mudslides.

Glacial melt is closely related to climate change, and the regional government of Tibet trying to cut carbon emissions. Enterprises that invest in renewable energy such as solar, wind and methane can receive tax advantages for up to eight years.

Kang wants more research on glaciers and climate change, and better use of the meltwater. A warning system on glacier lakes is needed to protect local people.

"If glaciers do not have ice and mountains do not have snow, what will our lives become?" said Ngawang Doa, a monk from a monastery on the foot of Mount Qomolangma. "Humans must make every effort to protect nature and co-exist with it."

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