Like Antarctica and the Arctic, the Third Pole region is drawing increased attention among the international academic community. It is centered on the Tibetan Plateau, stretching from the Pamir Plateau and Hindu-Kush on the west to the Hengduan Mountains on the east, and from the Kunlun and Qilian Mts on the north to the Himalayas on the south. Covering over 5,000,000 km2 in total and with an average elevation surpassing 4000 m. the Third Pole region is home to thousands of glaciers in the tropical/sub-tropical region that exert a direct influence on social and economic development in the surrounding regions of China, India, Nepal, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bhutan. It is subjected to influences from multiple climatic systems, complicated geomorphologies and various internal and external geological impacts. The result is a region with unique interactions among the atmosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere. In particular, the special atmospheric processes and active hydrological processes formed by glaciers, permafrost and persistent snow are especially influential, as are the ecosystem processes acting at multiple scales. These processes compose the fundamental basis for the unique geographical unit of the Third Pole region. The area demonstrates considerable feedbacks to global environmental changes, while interacting with and affecting each other in response to global environmental variations.
A series of observation and monitoring programs in the Third Pole region have been widely implemented, including the Himalayas Inter-disciplinary Paleoclimatic Projects (HIPPS), GEWEX Asia Monsoon Experiment on the Tibetan Plateau (GAME/Tibet), Coordinated Enhanced Observing Period (CEOP) Asian-Australian Monsoon Project on the Tibetan Plateau (CAMP/Tibet), the Pyramid Laboratory, Monsoon Asia Integrated Regional Study (MAIRS), Tibetan Plateau-Uplifting, Environmental changes and Ecosystem (TiP), Climate and Cryosphere Programme (CliC), and Ice Core Climate Archive Recovery Activity (ICARA). More research programs are being introduced by scientists from various nations to observe and monitor regional environment and climate in the Third Pole region, on both a long-term and short-term basis. Yet for a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms of environmental change and their impacts on the region, current observational resources need to be integrated and perfected, and research goals and approaches need to be updated and identified.