National Geographic : 2010 Apr
• On a warm summer a ernoon, Jia Son has hiked a mile and a half up the gorge that Ming- yong Glacier has carved into sacred Mount Kawagebo, looming 22,113 feet high in the clouds above. ere's no sign of ice, just a river roiling with silt-laden melt. For more than a century, ever since its tongue lapped at the edge of Mingyong village, the glacier has retreated like a dying serpent recoiling into its lair. Its pace has accelerated over the past decade, to more than a football field every year---a dis- tinctly unglacial rate for an ancient ice mass. " is all used to be ice ten years ago," Jia Son says, as he scrambles across the scree and brush. He points out a yak trail etched into the slope some 200 feet above the valley bottom. " e glacier sometimes used to cover that trail, so we had to lead our animals over the ice to get to the upper meadows." Around a bend in the river, the glacier's snout nally comes into view: It's a deathly shade of black, permeated with pulverized rock and dirt. e water from this ice, once so pure it served in rituals as a symbol of Buddha himself, is now too loaded with sediment for the villagers to drink. For nearly a mile the glacier's once smooth surface is ragged and cratered like the skin of a leper. ere are glimpses of blue-green ice within the ssures, but the cracks themselves signal trouble. " e beast is sick and wasting away," Jia Son says. "If our sacred glacier cannot survive, how can we?" that echoes around the globe, but nowhere more urgently than across the vast swath of Asia that draws its water from the "roof of the world." is geologic colossus---the high- est and largest plateau on the planet, ringed by its tallest mountains---covers an area greater than western Europe, at an average altitude of more than two miles. With nearly 37,000 glaciers on the Chinese side alone, the Tibetan Plateau BY BROOK LARMER PHOTOGRAPHS BY JONAS BENDIKSEN THE GODS MUST BE FURIOUS. It's the only explanation that makes sense to Jia Son, a Tibetan farmer surveying the catastrophe unfolding above his village in China's mountainous Yunnan Province. "We've upset the natural order," the devout, 52-year-old Buddhist says. "And now the gods are punishing us."