Largest Plateau in the World

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The Tibetan Plateau (also known as the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau) is the world’s largest plateau, covering an area of 970,000 square miles (2,500,000 square kilometers).

World’s Highest Plateau

The Tibetan Plateau is part of a region of Asia known the “Roof of the World” (Bam-i-Duniah) due to its high elevation. This region, known as High Asia, and has an average elevation of 14,800 feet (4500 meters) above sea level. This makes the Tibetan Plateau the world’s highest plateau.

How was the Tibetan Plateau Formed?

The Tibetan Plateau was formed and continues to be formed as the Indo-Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates collide. The two plates started colliding about 70 million years ago.

Largest Reservoir of Fresh Water Outside the Polar Regions

The Tibetan Plateau is home to multiple saline and freshwater glacial lakes. There are about 1,500 large and small lakes that total an area, in 2008, of 9,337 square miles (24,183 square kilometers).

The plateau is has the nickname the “Third Pole” because its ice fields comprise the world’s greatest freshwater resource outside of the polar regions.

A view from the International Space Station showing frozen glacial lakes in the Tibetan Plateau.
This southwest facing photo of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau shows the glacial lakes near the Himalayan mountain range. Lake Puma Yumco and Yamdrok Lake, which are located northeast of Mount Everest, were frozen at the time of the photo.  Photo: International Space Station, January 2020, public domain.

Salt Water Lakes in the Tibetan Plateau

One of the world’s highest salt lakes is Nam Co which has a lake surface elevation of 4,718 meters (15,480 feet). The dimensions of Nam Co are roughly 49 by 16 miles (79 by 25 kilometers).

Rise of Asia’s Rivers

The Tibetan Plateau gives rise to most of Asia’s major rivers. These rivers include the Brahmaputra, Indus, Ganges, Salween (Nu Jiang), Mekong (Lancang Jiang), Yangtze (Chang Jiang), and Yellow (Huang He) Rivers.

The Himalayas

The southern rim of the Tibetan Plateau is the Himalayas, a mountain that range includes the world’s largest mountain, Mount Everest.

Map showing the location of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau with lower elevation areas in green, higher elevation areas in yellow, and the surrounding ocean in blue.
Map showing the location of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. Map: Equal Earth Physical Map, public domain.

A City in the Middle of a Plateau

Located in the middle of the Tibetan Plateau, Lhasa is one of the world’s highest elevation cities at 11,975 feet (3,650 meters). Lhasa is also the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China.

With a 2020 population of 464,736, Lhasa is the second most populated city on the Tibetan Plateau after Xining, the capital of Qinghai (which has a 2020 population of 2,467,965). At an elevation of 7,464 feet (2,275 m), Xining sits at a lower geography than Lhasa.

References

Scott, M., & Kuring, N. (2010, November 26). Jewel-toned lakes of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/47133/jewel-toned-lakes-of-the-qinghai-tibet-plateau

Turner, A. (2022, January 23). Winter on the roof of the world. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/149356/winter-on-the-roof-of-the-world

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