Helmholtz-Zentrum Deutsches Geoforschungszentrum


Changes in Glacier and Snow-melt runoff components in Central Asia and societal Vulnerability


Interdisciplinary research project with focus on the regional-scale quantification of glacier and snowmelt runoff contributions, the assessment of past and future changes in river runoff, the characterization of socio-ecological vulnerability to runoff changes, and the development, pilot implement and evaluation of adaptation measures. Special emphasis is put on developing and strengthening the capacities of young scientists from Central Asian.

Background and Objectives

Meltwater from glaciers and seasonal snow cover substantially feeds Central Asian rivers. The riparian states use the water for economic activities such as irrigated agriculture and hydropower generation. Depending on the type and intensity of water use, the societies exhibit a varying vulnerability to changes in runoff availability and regimes. Against the background of global climate change, shrinkage of glaciers and changes in snow cover climatology have been observed in the Central Asian High Mountains over the past decades. However, the spatio-temporal variability of the contributions of glacier and snow melt to total river runoff has not been characterized quantitatively, so far, for the majority of the river basins. Moreover, detailed assessments of the socio-ecological vulnerability of the riparian communities and economic sectors to past and potential future changes in runoff are rare in Central Asia, and comprehensive multi-scale assessments are lacking so far.

The project partners aim at a large-scale assessment of the glacier and snow melt contribution, their past and future changes, and of the societal vulnerability in Central Asia. For the first time, we will strive for a consistent regional estimation of glacier and snowmelt contribution to river runoff and its variability in space and time, which still remains largely unknown and is a matter of speculations.

The partners will develop socio-ecological vulnerability indices for various economic sectors and different societal groups, which will characterise the dependencies on water availability and its temporal variability. Pilot adaptation measures will be implemented and evaluated.

An important project component is the training and qualification of young Central Asian researchers involving bachelor, master and PhD students as well as junior researchers.

Study Areas and Methods

The partly glacierised Upper Chu and Ili river basins in the Northern Tien Shan have been selected as the main study areas.

In Work packages 2 and 3, we combine field measurements with hydrological modelling to quantify runoff components and their contribution to river flow in space and time at the catchment scale. This will be based mainly on the outcomes of the GlaSCA pilot study [cross reference to GlaSCA-Project]. With the validated hydrological models, reliably reproducing individual runoff components, the attribution of past changes in runoff components and investigation of potential future changes is intended.

Work package 4 focusses on the assessment of the socio-ecologic vulnerability of individual societal groups and economic sectors to changes in water availability and runoff regimes. Results from household interviews, stakeholder meetings, round tables and expert knowledge will be used to develop vulnerability indices for the characterization of spatio-temporal vulnerability in the studied river basins. Special emphasis will be put on the development and discussion of unified, region-wide accepted vulnerability indices, which allow reliable vulnerability assessments in transboundary river basins. The development, pilot implementation and evaluation of adaptation measures will be carried out with focus on the resilience of the local communities to projected changes in water availability.

Key publications :

  • He, Z., Vorogushyn, S., Unger-Shayesteh, K., Gafurov, A., Merz, B. (2017): The value of hydrograph partitioning curves for calibrating hydrological models in glacierized basins, (Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 19, EGU2017-13577), General Assembly European Geosciences Union (Vienna, Austria). |
  • He, Z., Unger-Shayesteh, K., Vorogushyn, S., Gafurov, A., Weise, L., Kalashnikova, O., Merz, B. (2017):Towards the improvement of model internal consistency using water isotope composition measurements in a glacierized basin, (Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 19, EGU2017-16924), General Assembly European Geosciences Union (Vienna, Austria).
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