Water management in view of melting glaciers

Water management in view of melting glaciers

This picture was taken in the high mountains of the Tian-Shan near the South camp of mount Khan Tengri in Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan on board of a helicopter at an altitude of 5.500 meters. You see the Inylcheck glacier flowing West.

ettlements located downstream along larger rivers will be less affected by glacier melting. Glacier retreat will enhance river discharge and fresh water availability of the main receiving streams. In conclusion in coming decades we will observe a shrinkage of summer runoff from catchments with small glaciers and increase of summer runoff from catchments with large glaciers. As a result migration from mountain areas into riverine settlements will be the consequence. Further urbanisation can be expected.

Photo by Alfred Diebold ©

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The river Panj as a natural boarder

The river Panj as a natural boarder

This picture was taken on board of a helicopter showing the town of Khorog. The river Panj is the natural boarder between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Modern Khorog is one of the poorest areas of Tajikistan, with the charitable organization Aga Khan Foundation providing almost the only source of cash income. However, the city does have its own university (Khorog State University), founded in 1992), twelve schools, and several hospitals. There is a museum, the Khorog Regional Museum, an Ismaili Centre, and the second-highest botanical garden in the world, the Pamir Botanical Garden.

Photo by Alfred Diebold ©

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The impact of meltwater

The impact of meltwater

The cryosphere system of the mountainous regions also include ice-rich permafrost as well as buired remnant ice in moraines. Changes in the permafrost thermal regime can have significant impacts on local hydrology, land surface energy and moisture balances, carbon exchange between the land and the atmosphere, and ecosystems, as well as on engineering infrastructure. With rising temperatures in the high mountains, it is expected that meltwater from buried ice in the frozen ground will increase the river runnoff.

Photo: Fedshenko glacier talus slope, Pamir, Tajikistan (Alfred Diebold ©)

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Glacier melting

Glacier melting

Since about 1950, between 14% and 30% of the Tien Shan and Pamir glaciers have melted. This process has accelerated since the early 1970´s with rising temperatures, which can be attributed to the humanly induced climate change. Today’s rate of glacier loss in Central Asia is 0.2–1% per year in volume, which means about 5 km3 of water. Some of the small glaciers (smaller than 0.5 km²) have already totally disappeared. During hot and dry periods glaciers provide up to 70-80% of river run-off in Central Asia.

Photo: Meltwater of the Inylcheck glacier, North slope in the Tian-Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (Alfred Diebold ©)

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Glacier lake outburst floods

Glacier lake outburst floods

Climate change scenarios for Central Asia forecast a 1° to 3°C increase in temperature by 2030–50. Future increases in both rainfall variability and extreme weather events make water availability less predictable. Climate change has also altered precipitation patterns. It caused more precipitation in northern parts of Central Asia and less in the south, where most agricultural areas are. But most profound effects of global warming are being observed on glaciers in Central Asia.

Photo: Glacier with small glacier lakes in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan (Alfred Diebold ©)

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