Generations of scientists have grown up learning about the polar regions of Earth and the long history of exploration and study of these extreme environments by pioneering researchers who pushed far beyond the geographic boundaries of their time.
These regions include not only the North and South Poles, defined by their extreme latitudes, but also a similarly inaccessible region of the planet known as the Third Pole, defined by extreme elevation—an area encompassing the highest mountain regions on Earth. The term “Third Pole” gained popularity with the publication of a 2008 Nature news feature entitled “China: The Third Pole.”
Since the inception of the Third Pole Environment (TPE) program in 2009, researchers have established a global network of scientists committed to propelling the study of this unique region to the forefront of global climate and environmental research.
Over 80 scientists from 20 countries attended the 8th TPE Workshop to explore the interactions between the Third Pole and polar regions within the context of global climate and environmental research. The 3-day workshop included five plenary sessions devoted to presentations on topics ranging from physical processes and field measurement to collaborative modeling efforts to biodiversity studies and monitoring ecosystem changes—with special emphasis on the research links between the polar regions and the Third Pole.
Last year, realizing the importance of the Third Pole region, the Chinese Academy of Sciences approved significant funding for an expanded study of the Third Pole—referred to as Pan-Third Pole Environment—for a more comprehensive Earth systems science approach to understanding past and current environmental changes. The Pan-Third Pole region extends 20 million square kilometers from the Tibetan Plateau–centered Third Pole to its west and north and encompasses the Pamirs, the Tibetan Plateau, the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush, the Iranian Plateau, the Caucasus, the Carpathians, etc.
To serve as an additional base for cooperative research and help fulfill TPE’s mission of heightening international collaboration through young scientist training, workshop participants held an opening ceremony for a satellite TPE office at the University of Gothenburg. This office joins a network that includes the main office in Beijing, China, and other satellite offices in Kathmandu, Nepal, and Ohio State University in Columbus. The opening ceremony culminated with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Tandong Yao, TPE cochair, and Roland Barthel of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Gothenburg.
During the final day of breakout discussions, attendees identified potential bridges between research in the Third Pole and in the polar regions, for example, paleorecords based on water isotope and other proxies, black carbon deposition, and teleconnection between the Third Pole and polar regions in relation to variable atmospheric circulation. Participating scientists also suggested TPE continue the development of long-term research goals and global interest, perhaps using the International Polar Year as a model. Participants also emphasized the importance of training and involvement of young scientists and encouraged additional efforts to help young scientists through established networks such as the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists.
Through these new bonds, researchers can facilitate better communication across disciplines to gain a better understanding of the Third Pole region and its important role in global climate.
—Daniel Joswiak ([email protected]), Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Beijing, China; and Meri Elizabeth Guelld Joswiak and Tandong Yao, Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China