Spanning 2.5 million square kilometers between the Himalaya mountains and northwest China, the Tibetan Plateau towers 4.8 km above sea level and dominates the landscape of central and east Asia, as shown in figure 1. The swathe of high-altitude arid steppe profoundly influences the region’s monsoon climate but due to plate tectonics, the plateau hasn’t always been a prominent feature of Earth’s subtropics. Climatologists have tried to explore how the plateau’s evolution affected ancient climate patterns over the millennia, but previous paleoclimate studies have assumed that the plateau formed in its modern-day position, despite evidence to the contrary.

Now researchers led by Ran Zhang (Climate Change Research Center; spokesperson for the group) and Zhongshi Zhang (China University of Geosciences) have shown that the evolution of Asia’s climate depended not only on changes to the plateau’s height but also on changes in its latitudinal position.1 They used a series...

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