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Where is the Third Pole?

Where is the Third Pole?


Where is the Third Pole?

Landscape showing a mountain covered in snow in the distance. The foreground of the photograph reveals brown ground, not covered in snow.
Historically, polar explorers generated much interest in their adventures – so much so that they dominated the newspapers and pop culture of the day. When these polar explorers returned from faraway places, they went on lecture tours and wrote books about their experiences, which only expanded their popularity. Their adventures were accessible to the masses and they became heroes in the eyes of their adoring public.

The Third Pole (TP) covers over 5 million square kilometers, has an average elevation of 4000 meters and is centered on the Tibetan Plateau and its surrounding regions that include the Himalayas to the south. The TP region contains over 46,000 glaciers and summertime glacier melt provides a portion of the water resources for over one billion people. Temperature data reveal that the TP region is warming faster than surrounding areas. Conditions here are of growing concern due to its significant role in global atmospheric circulation and its sensitivity as a first indicator of climate change. Thus, research on the TP is vital for a better understanding of global climate and environment changes and their impacts on and interactions with human activities in this geopolitically sensitive region.

The Ice Core Paleoclimate Research Group at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, led by Drs. Lonnie Thompson and Ellen Mosley-Thompson, has drilled and analyzed ice cores from five sites from the Third Pole since the 1980s. The group has engaged in two expeditions to the Guliya Ice Cap in northwestern Tibet, as well as one expedition each to the Puruogangri Ice Cap in central Tibet, the Dunde Ice Cap in northeastern Tibet, the Dasuopu Glacier in the southcentral Himalaya, the Zangser Ice Cap in west central Tibet, and the Naimona’nyi  glacier in the southwestern Himalaya. This collection of ice cores retrieved from this remote region have resulted in high resolution climate records for many of these sites and a long record for north central Tibet dating back at least 100,000 years and likely much longer.

The Ice Core Paleoclimatology Group site contains more information about their research and the significant scientific findings from the Third Pole. In addition, a video highlighting the recent expedition to the Guliya Ice Cap is provided below.


In August 2009, the Third Pole Environment Program was established to foster collaboration among international scientists working in the region and studying a wide array of topics, including the climatic systems, ecosystems and hydrologic and cryospheric processes. Dr. Lonnie Thompson of the BPCRC is a co-chair of the TPE Program.  

The Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center hosted the 6th International Third Pole Environment Workshop on May-16-18, 2016. The program and abstracts volume for the workshop are available in OSU’s institutional repository, the Knowledge Bank.

During the workshop, the Byrd Center opened the second Third Pole Environment Program Satellite Office, the first in the Western Hemisphere. A key goal for this office is to contribute to the scholarly development of young scientists and facilitate the development of their academic careers.

For more information about the Byrd Center’s history visit the Polar Timeline at tiki-tiki.com.