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The Third Pole refers to the unique high-mountain region centered on the Tibetan Plateau. It stretches west to the Pamir-Hindu Kush region, east to the Hengduan Mountains, north to the Kunlun and Qilian mountains, and south to the Himalayas, encompassing over 5 million square kilometers with an average elevation of over 4,000 meters above sea level. The region stores more snow and ice than anywhere else in the world outside the Arctic and Antarctic, thus its name, the Third Pole. The uniqueness of the region qualifies it as an ecological buffer.
The Third Pole Environment (TPE) is an international program for the interdisciplinary study of the relationships among water, ice, air, ecology and humankind in the Third Pole region and beyond. It was initiated in 2009 by three world-renowned scientists, Professors YAO Tandong, Lonnie G. Thompson and Volker Mosbrugger. TPE has since developed a series of productive workshops, research and observation networks as well as training courses for young scientists. TPE has been endorsed by UNESCO as its flagship program and is in close partnership with UNEP and WMO.