Glacier meltwater: current and future relevance in mountain hydrology in Kyrgyzstan


Arid and densely populated regions of Central Asia strongly depend on water from nearby mountain ranges. The changing climate will likely affect river discharge and related water availability from glacier melt. While a number of studies point towards a decrease in future water availability, comparison to actual discharge measurements is rarely carried out as data are relatively sparse. Collaboration with researchers in Central Asia could ease data access, but the required connections are often lacking.

Here we apply for seed funding to intensify collaboration with researchers from Kyrgyzstan. We will focus on the problem of present and future hydrology in Central Asia on the example of the At-Bashy Mountain Range in the south-eastern Kyrgyz Tien Shan. Meltwater from the glaciers of the At-Bashy Range is one of the sources of the Naryn River. As the main contributor to the Syr-Darya River, the Naryn is a major and vital source of water for large parts of the dry and densely populated lowlands of Central Asia.


The envisaged research and collaboration centres at a series of clearly defined project goals and milestones. Step (1) Details of the collaboration will be coordinated between the main applicant Horst Machguth (HM), senior researcher at the Department of Geosciences at Fribourg University (DG-UniFr) and the project partners Ryzkul Usubaliev (RU; head of department) and Ruslan Kenzhebaev (RK; PhD student) at the Central Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences (CAIAG), Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. (2) RK will collect hydrological and glaciological data from the At-Bashy mountain range in Kyrgyzstan. RK will carry out data quality control and preprocessing under supervision of RU and HM. (3) RK will visit DG-UniFr for a duration of two months where he and HM will further develop and prepare the combined glaciological and hydrological model. (4) The model, originally developed and published by HM, will be calibrated to measured present-day glacier melt and river discharge in the At-Bashy mountain range. (5) The calibrated model will be forced by a series of future climate scenarios to simulate future runoff and meltwater contribution to Naryn streamflow. (6) The results will be summarized and submitted for publication in an international peer-reviewed journal.

Guiding Principles

Direct collaboration with scientists from Central Asia is at the heart of the present project. To optimize benefits for all partners involved, the planned work will be carried out according to the following guiding principles:

  • Mutual collaboration: Model development is carried out collaboratively. RK will perform the model runs himself (assisted by HM).
  • Using local resources by locals: RK will gather data in his home region (city of Naryn, Naryn district, Kyrgyzstan) and will use the data himself to test and calibrate the modelling approach.
  • Adopt model complexity to data availability: We will put special emphasis on adopting the existing modelling approach together with RK for optimal applicability in the context of available data.

Clearly defined geographic extent: We will break the very complex hydrology of Central Asia down to a clearly defined study area, namely the At-Bashy Range.