Substantial glacier ice loss in Central Asia's largest mountain range

August 17, 2015
Glaciological field measurements on a glacier in the Jetim-Bel range, Kyrgyzstan. Systematic in-situ surveys as pictured are essential for providing ground truth data against which satellite observation can be compared. Credit: D. Farinotti, GFZ/WSL

Glaciers in Central Asia experience substantial losses in glacier mass and area. Along the Tien Shan, Central Asia's largest mountain range, glaciers have lost 27% of their mass and 18% of their area during the last 50 years. An international research team led by the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and including the institute of the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) at Rennes University in particular, estimated that almost 3000 square kilometers of glaciers and an average of 5.4 gigatons of ice per year have been lost since the 1960s. In the current online issue of Nature Geoscience, the authors estimate that about half of Tien Shan's glacier volume could be depleted by the 2050s.

Glaciers play an important role in the water cycle of Central Asia. Snow and glacier melt from the Tien Shan is essential for the water supply of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and parts of China. "Despite this importance, only little was known about how in this region changed over the last century" the principal investigator Daniel Farinotti explains. Most of the direct monitoring programs, that were shut down with the collapse of the Soviet Union, are resumed only today, and modern observation techniques often cover a limited time span only.

GFZ-researcher Farinotti and colleagues now present a reconstruction of the glacier evolution in the Tien Shan. "We combined various methods based on satellite gravimetry, laser altimetry and glaciological modelling" Farinotti says. "This way, we were able to reconstruct the evolution of every single glacier. Currently, the Tien Shan is losing ice at a pace that is roughly twice the annual water consumption of entire Germany."

Glaciers in Central Asia

Glaciers can store water as glacier ice over decades, and transfer winter precipitation into the summer months by releasing it as melt water. This is particularly important in seasonally arid regions, i.e. regions that have months with virtually no precipitation, since local water supply is then closely linked to meltwater availability.

A lake mirrors some fresh-snow covered glaciers in the Teskey Ala-Too, Kyrgyzstan. Yet the appearance is deceiving: Glaciers in the Tien Shan are losing mass at a rapid pace. Credit: D. Farinotti, GFZ/WSL

Central Asia is the outstanding case for human dependence on water seasonally delayed by glaciers. Nowhere the question about the glacier state is linked so closely to questions of availability and, thus, food security.

The pace of glacier retreat noticeably accelerated between the 1970s and the 1980s. Daniel Farinotti: "The long-term signal is clearly related to the overall rise in temperature". In fact, the study shows that the rise in temperature, and summer temperature in particular, is a primary control for glacier evolution in the region. "For Central Asia, this statement is less trivial than it might seem at first glance: Since the winter months in the region are very dry and the mountains are that high, glaciers receive most of their snowfalls during summer." Farinotti explains. "This means that an increased temperature contributes to both, increased melt and reduced glacier nourishment - and obviously, both contributes to glacier wastage."

By using the latest climate projections, which anticipate an additional 2 °C warming of summer temperatures in the period 2021 - 2050, the authors also provide a first outlook for the future evolution: Half of the total glacier ice volume present in the Tien Shan today could be lost by the 2050s.

Explore further: Glaciers melt faster than ever

More information: Daniel Farinotti, Laurent Longuevergne, Geir Moholdt, Doris Duethmann, Thomas Mölg, Tobias Bolch, Sergiy Vorogushyn, and Andreas Güntner: "Substantial glacier mass loss in the Tien Shan over the past 50 years", Nature Geoscience, Advance Online Publication, 17.08.2015, DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2513

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3.5 / 5 (13) Aug 17, 2015
Deniers do not care. Their goal is politics and control of the rest of us.

These glaciers provide water to am immense group of people.
1.4 / 5 (11) Aug 17, 2015
By using the latest climate projections, which anticipate an additional 2 °C warming of summer temperatures in the period 2021 - 2050

Anyone wondering how well that model is doing predicting the temperature will be interested in this graph:
Why do the models fail so badly? they pre-suppose anthropogenic forcing.

This is a decent article helping us understand how huge the scales are. We would like to think the scales are small enough for us to influence them, but in reality, it is impossible:

HUGE scale:

Here's another good link for people interested in learning about how glaciers and ice sheets work:

Looking at a couple of glaciers and wringing our hands is naive.

1.7 / 5 (11) Aug 17, 2015
blah...blah...These glaciers provide water to am immense group of people.

Yep, they do so by melting..... moron.
3.7 / 5 (12) Aug 17, 2015
"Yep, they do so by melting..... moron."

Until they do not get replenished, Einstein.
1.4 / 5 (9) Aug 17, 2015
5 / 5 (8) Aug 17, 2015
"Now, scientists have found an explanation for this mysterious glacial stability. While precipitation is increasing across the Himalayas, most of this moisture drops in the summer — except in Karakoram, where snow dominates the scene."

"It's been a source of controversy that these glaciers haven't been changing while other glaciers in the world have," said study researcher Sarah Kapnick, a postdoctoral researcher in atmospheric and ocean sciences at Princeton University."

"This gives a reasoning for why you can have increased snowfall in a region and have increased glaciers or stable glaciers in a warming world," Kapnick told Live Science."


1.4 / 5 (10) Aug 17, 2015
Until they do not get replenished, Einstein.

This fundamental misunderstanding seems to be one of the greatest sources of angst for AGWs.

They seem to not think in scales large enough to know that these massive processes experience wax and wane. Sometimes they shrink, sometimes they grow.

It is very easy to get scared seeing change and thinking in terms of 10 years, or even 100 years. But what about a time-scale that an anthrocentric may not consider, like 1,000 years, or 10,000 years?

I wonder where we stand in the natural variance range of glacial wax and wane.

So far, all of these natural calamities that are allegedly befalling us are well withing the natural variance ranges of earth's history, and thus can reasonably be explained as part of Earth's natural cycle.

4.7 / 5 (14) Aug 17, 2015
Geez, denglish, you should get a Nobel for physics. You clearly know more about this than the people who are actually studying it. Can't wait for the ceremony. We'll all cheer.

The crops of a billion people are dependent on these glaciers. But, hey, they're brown people and judging from your other comments it's probably not a surprise you don't care.
4.4 / 5 (14) Aug 17, 2015
We've known about the coming loss of ice for decades. And STILL the republicans in the U.S. Congress deny we have anything to do with it. It's a rejection of science. A rejection of reality.

Join the efforts to expose, confront, and replace any law/policy maker unwilling to deal with this very real global crisis. People are at risk.

3.9 / 5 (11) Aug 17, 2015
Hi ReduceGHGs, gkam (& all sane, honest posters on this issue. :)

Yes, US GOP, last 'defenders' of science-denialism/self-interested industrial/religious/political con-men and industrial affiliates in coal/nuclear/oil etc, are still using "Troll Factories" like the one Putin uses, to skew/sabotage otherwise intelligent and sane discussion of these issues on social media/science sites.

If you're wondering how much they pay their trolls, just ask Willie Ward, ryggesogn2, denglish et al....they love the blood money from those GOP etc lobby groups who would lie to/sell their grandmothers for a buck.

The irony for GOP is our OZ PM, Tony Abbot, inculcated in GOP 'policies' of sabotage/denial before our last election, finally ADMITS he was WRONG when he repeated the GOP LIES (ie, that the climate science evidence/predictions are "crap" etc). Our PM just ended his 'denial', and agreed to act on the climate science re CO2! But 'stranded' GOP/trolls still lying for Blood Money. Sad.
Da Schneib
4.6 / 5 (9) Aug 17, 2015
Welcome to this week's global warming story. And it's early in the week yet- we may get another one for this week.

How is it possible given all the evidence that it's getting warmer can people keep denying it?

Well, there are still Flat Earthers out there. Yes really: One resource we apparently won't run out of anytime soon is human stupidity.
4.3 / 5 (12) Aug 17, 2015
Good RealityCheck! Thanks!

I consider it immoral for "republicons" to willingly put people at risk. And due to the huge number of low-information voters here in the U.S., most of the deniers will likely keep getting re-elected. Yes, sad indeed.

Then there are the trolls parroting the corporate agenda. I ran into one the other day (russell cook) that's an "expert" listed on The Heartland Institute's website. (FYI... His email address can be found there.) A tough cookie but his argument crumbled as he couldn't back up his denials with credible evidence. Pathetic that some feel they have to resort to dishonesty to "earn" a living.
1.7 / 5 (6) Aug 18, 2015
ut, hey, they're brown people and judging from your other comments it's probably not a surprise you don't care.

So now I'm a racist. Well, it still doesn't refute the postion that the scales by which glacial lives are measured are far outside of the AGW picture.

You do know that Mother Nature doesn't care what color one's skin is, yes?

You clearly know more about this than the people who are actually studying it

Huh? Not a chance. You're very emotional. I hope everything works out ok.

How is it possible given all the evidence that it's getting warmer can people keep denying it?

No-one denies climate change. However, it is true that for the last 18 years, there has been no warming.

huge number of low-information voters

I find the amount of rationalization and attempts to censor via humiliation sad. Is that's all that's left for you guys? How about some substantial input?

3 / 5 (4) Aug 18, 2015
denglish, I gave you an analysis regarding the present costs of wind, PV, and Nuke power facilities.

Go check them out, and remember the differences between systems which use vast amounts of water, such as thermal plants, coal, gas, and nukes, and those which do not require fuels and need waste removal to somewhere else.
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 18, 2015
denglish, I gave you an analysis regarding the present costs of wind, PV, and Nuke power facilities.

No, you didn't. Also, this is the wrong thread.

Please, if you link to something, make sure it isn't a bi-curious website like last time. I'm not saying what you do on those sites is bad, I'm just not interested in it.

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