Glaciers in China's bleak, rugged Qilian mountains are disappearing at a shocking rate as global warming brings unpredictable change and raises the prospect of crippling, long-term water shortages, scientists say.
The largest glacier in the 800-km (500-mile) mountain chain on the arid northeastern edge of the Tibetan plateau has retreated about 450 metres since the 1950s, when researchers set up China's first monitoring station to study it.
Across the mountains, glacier retreat was 50% faster in 1990-2010 than it was from 1956 to 1990, data from the China Academy of Sciences shows.
"When I first came here in 2005, the glacier was around that point there where the river bends," Qin said, pointing to where the rocky, treeless slopes of the Laohugou valley channel the winding river to lower ground.
The flow of water in a stream near the terminus of the Laohugou No. 12 runoff is about double what it was 60 years ago, Qin said.
Further downstream, near Dunhuang, once a major junction on the ancient Silk Road, water flowing out of the mountains has formed a lake in the desert for the first time in 300 years, state media reported.
The evidence of the withering ice is all too clear for student researcher Jin Zizhen, out under a deep-blue sky checking his instruments in the glare of Laohugou No. 12.
“It's something I've been able to see with my own eyes."
For more on the story see the graphic