Central Asian International Glaciological Center opens in Almaty to help measure Tien Shan glaciers
The Central Asian International Glaciological Center is being established in Almaty on the basis of the Kazakh Institute of Geography and Water Security. It will begin its work by the end of the year and will study the alarming melting of glaciers in the Northern Tien Shan. Scientists predict that they might completely disappear by the end of this century.
The Tuiyksu glacier is the most suitable and accessible site for study in the Ile Alatau ridge due to its proximity to Almaty. This is where the glaciological station of the Kazakh Institute of Geography and Water Security operates. For many years, Tuiyksu glacier has been under control of the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), headquartered in Switzerland. In particular, the Northern Tien Shan’s largest mountain glacier is an indicator of global climate change in Central Asia. Domestic experts regularly send tracking data to their Swiss counterparts.
“Glaciers are the most sensitive indicators of climate change. They respond to change instantaneously. If the glaciers are retreating, this means there is actually some warming going on. Ice melts when the air temperature rises. To date, the degradation of glaciation is evident. In recent years, since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the pace has increased significantly. Glaciers have begun to retreat faster than before the 1970s,” said Nikolay Kasatkin, Research Fellow at the Institute of Geography and Water Security.
Scientists, by the way, measure the melting of glaciers every 10 days. To do this, they have to climb from the station to the ice field on foot. This journey takes a total of one and a half to two hours. The Tuiyksu glacier has a so-called field of slats. The height of the installed slats can be used to determine how quickly the ice melts. Kasatkin said that there are currently only 102 slats left on the glacier, which is much less than before. This is because the area of the ice tongue is shrinking. In addition, five small control boreholes are drilled to determine its density.
“All observations are carried out here every 10 days from the end of March or the beginning of April and up to the end of September or mid-October, when the average daily air temperatures go below zero. The glacier goes under snow until next year. During this whole warm period, we go and measure the height of the slats above the ice every 10 days. It allows us to see how much ice has melted over these 10 days. Then, on the basis of all these measurements, maps are made, the area and volume are calculated, and everything is converted into a water equivalent. Thus, we know how much water the glacier lost,” Kasatkin said.
He stressed that the area of the Tuiyksu glacier is now shrinking rapidly. Given also the fact that this year was distinguished by a small amount of precipitation and the winter balance was almost half the average norm.
“Not everything is as bad as it might seem at first glance. In addition to the open ice, there is the so-called hidden ice under the rock layer. Unfortunately, at this stage of technological development, we cannot reliably estimate the amount of the ice that lies in these moraines. I hope that someday we will do it,” Kasatkin said.
Experts hope that the opening of the Central Asian International Glaciological Center will open up new possibilities for a comprehensive study of the glaciers of the Northern Tien Shan.