Melting permafrost flows like lava through valley in Tibetan plateau

Video taken by herdsmen shows thick stream of mud and grass making its way towards river

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 September, 2017, 10:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 September, 2017, 2:48pm

Rare footage filmed by Tibetan herdsmen last week shows melting permafrost on the Tibetan plateau, Chinese government scientists have confirmed.

The thick stream of melted permafrost flowed like lava through a fertile valley in Yushu, Qinghai on September 7, destroying a minivan and a tent.

No one is believed to have been injured, but a woman can be heard panicking and crying in the video, which went viral on Chinese social media in the past few days.

Permafrost is soil, rock or sediment that is frozen all year round. Many areas of the Tibetan plateau remain frozen due to their high altitude.

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In the video, the cold, black mass of mud and grass is seen advancing through the valley towards a small river.

More than 40 Tibetan herdsmen and women in nearby Zhimei village were relocated by local authorities to a safer location, Science and Technology Daily reported on Wednesday.

The official newspaper quoted government scientists as saying there had been very few reports of people witnessing this phenomenon before.

Wang Dekai, chief scientist for natural disaster prevention in Gansu province, told the newspaper the permafrost layer was supposed to stay frozen for a number of years.

“[Melting] usually occurs in uninhabited areas,” he said, adding that this was one of the first cases of permafrost thawing close to a human settlement.

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Government scientists believed the event was triggered by an unusual amount of rainfall in the area, with a huge volume of water seeping about 2.5 metres beneath the top layer of soil, causing the permafrost to melt.

They said permafrost had been melting at a faster rate on the Tibetan plateau in recent years and warned it could continue as global temperatures rise.