Tibetan Plateau – WorldAtlas

The plateaus are defined as vast, flat uplands that rise steeply above the surrounding region on one side. Plateaus are found on all continents and occupy about a third of the Earth’s land surface. Along with mountains, hills and plains, plateaus are one of the four main landforms on Earth.


Where is the Tibetan plateau?

Map showing the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Covering an area of ​​approximately 2,500,000 km² and with an average altitude of over 4,500m, the Tibetan Plateau (also known as the Himalayan Plateau / Qinghai-Tibet Plateau) is considered the highest and largest plateau in the world. This vast high plateau covers much of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, the western part of Sichuan, the southern part of Gansu, the northwestern part of Yunnan and the Ali region of the Autonomous Region. Uighur woman from Xinjiang. The plateau also covers parts of the Union of Indian Territory of Ladakh, the Lahaul and Spiti district of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh as well as the Kingdom of Bhutan.


Tibetan Plateau
The landscape of the Tibetan plateau.

The Tibetan Plateau has a length of about 2,500 km (east to west) and a maximum width of about 1,000 km (north to south). The plateau is surrounded by several high mountain ranges and is therefore sometimes referred to as the “Roof of the world”. The Tibetan Plateau is bordered by the Kunlun Mountains and its associated mountain ranges to the north; the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges to the south and southwest; and the Qilian Mountains to the northeast.

The Kunlun mountains separate the Tibetan plateau from the Tarim basin; while the eastern part of the Tarim basin is separated from the Tibetan plateau by the Altyn-Tagh mountain range. The Qilian Mountains separate the Tibetan Plateau from the Gobi Desert and the Hexi / Gansu Corridor. The Himalayan mountains form a barrier between the Tibetan plateau and the alluvial plains of the Indian subcontinent. The Hengduan Mountains connect the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau with the southeastern parts of the Tibetan Plateau.

Mansarovar lake on the Tibetan plateau
High altitude Mansarovar Lake in Tibet. The lake is considered sacred by Hindus and Buddhists and is visited by many pilgrims.

The Tibetan Plateau is also called the World Plateau “third pole” because it holds the largest storage of fresh water outside the Arctic (North) and Antarctic (South) polar regions. The plateau serves as a source for several major rivers in Asia, including the Mekong, Salween, Yangtze, Huang He, Tarim, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. In addition to this, there are several glaciers and brackish lakes on the Tibetan Plateau.


Mansarovar lake on the Tibetan plateau
A Buddhist monastery nestled in the mountains of the Tibetan plateau.

The formation of the Tibetan plateau is quite similar to that of the Himalayas. The uplift of the metamorphic and sedimentary rocks that created these mountain ranges also resulted in the creation of the Tibetan Plateau. This formation is believed to date back around 70 million years, as a result of the continental collision between the Indo-Australian Plate and the Eurasian Plate. Around 50 million years ago, this rapidly north-moving Indo-Australian plate had gradually compressed and shrunk the Tethyan Sea. Due to the increased compressive forces, masses of granite and basalt rock from the Earth’s mantle were pushed upward into the weakened sedimentary crust. Over the following years, the Tethys Sea shrank completely and its seabed was gradually pushed upward by the Indo-Australian Plate, resulting in the formation of the Tibetan Plateau. According to geologists, the Indo-Australian Plate is still pushed horizontally below the Tibetan Plateau, resulting in the plateau rising continuously at a rate of 5mm per year.


The Tibetan plateau experiences an arid climate typical of high altitude. The annual average temperature varies between 5.6 ° C and 8.8 ° C. The Himalayas act as a formidable barrier against the rainy southerly winds and, as a result, the plateau receives low annual rainfall of 100-300 mm, which falls mainly in the form of hail. Large parts of the plateau are covered with permafrost. Occupying the northwestern part of the plateau, the Changtang region is the highest and coldest part of the plateau, which experiences an annual average temperature of -5.6 ° C and during winters temperatures drop below. from -40 ° C.

The fauna and the flora

Tibetan fox on the Tibetan plateau.
Tibetan fox on the Tibetan plateau.

Mountain meadows are the main ecosystem found on the Tibetan plateau. Parts of the plateau are covered with alpine tundra vegetation, while other parts influenced by monsoons are covered with forests and shrub areas. Some notable wildlife species found here include Tibetan wolf, wild yak, wild ass, snow leopard, water buffalo, etc. Birds like geese, cranes, hawks and vultures can be found there. Some snakes are also found in the plateau region. The Himalayan jumping spider (Euophrys omnisuperstes) is an important arachnid found in the Tibetan Plateau region. According to WWF, around 17 ecoregions are found on the Tibetan Plateau.