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Irreversible water storage declines predicted in parts of Asia by 2060

The Tibetan Plateau, known as the “water tower” of Asia, supplies freshwater for nearly two billion people who live downstream. New research led by scientists at Penn State, Tsinghua University and the University of Texas at Austin projects that climate change, under a scenario of weak climate policy, will cause irreversible declines in freshwater storage in the region, constituting a serious the water supply for central Asia and Afghanistan and a near-total collapse for Northern India, Kashmir, and Pakistan by the middle of the century.

“The prognosis is not good,” said Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science, Penn State. “In a ‘business as usual’ scenario, where we fail to meaningfully curtail fossil fuel burning in the decades ahead, we can expect a substantial decrease — that is, nearly 100 percent loss — of water availability to downstream regions of the Tibetan Plateau. I was surprised at just how large the predicted decrease is even under a scenario of modest climate policy.”

According to the researchers, despite its importance, the impacts of climate change on past and future terrestrial water storage (TWS) — which includes all the above- and below-groundwater — in the Tibetan Plateau have largely been underexplored.

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