Tibetan Plateau is an important physical feature, whose influence is felt not only in the Indian Subcontinent, but also on the entire Asian continent. It is an intermont plateau surrounded by the Great Himalayas to the south, Kunlun ranges to the north west, Altyn Tagh to the north and Nan Shan to the north east.
Tibetan Plateau is called the “Third Pole of the World” because it has the largest reserves of fresh water in the frozen ice form, outside the two poles. It is also being heated at twice the rate due to global warming, just like the two poles of the world.
Coming to the geology of the plateau, it is the highest plateau in the world and its height is still growing at a slow, but perceptible rate. This is because the Indian plate is continuously moving towards the Eurasian plate (at a rate of about 4-5 cm/year) and this is resulting in Indian plate being pushed under the Eurasian plate. This is the reason why the continental crust in the Tibetan Plateau is the thickest and hence it is called the “Roof of the World”.
The plateau is home to several glaciers and lakes – brackish water lakes in the north and fresh water lakes in the south. Tibetan Plateau is thus the lifeline of Asia, because it is the source of several rivers like Indus and Satluj of Indus river water system, Arun, Ghaghra and Gandak of Ganges river water system, Manas and Brahmaputra of Brahmaputra river water system, Yellow River, Yangtze, Mekong and Salween rivers. It also plays a crucial role in the Indian Monsoons, which is the lifeline of several rivers in Peninsular India.
Its economy is largely agrarian, especially barley and is more pronounced in the Brahmaputra valley. Nomadic pasturing is also an important occupation of the inhabitants here. The plateau is very rich in mineral resources like gold, copper, lead and zinc, lithium (from the salt water lakes), iron, chromium, rare earths, Uranium, oil and natural gas. It is for these reasons that China is looking to make investments to exploit these rich minerals, a move that is being opposed by several nations as disturbing its fragile system would have repercussions on the entire continent.