Climate change and glacier dynamics in the Caucasus and the mountains of Southern Siberia

Introduction

The Ebrus plateau, Caucus mountainsIt is widely acknowledged that glacier fluctuations are a relatively reliable indicator of climate change. Recently, much research has focused on glaciers around the world, from small mountain glaciers near the equator to the vast polar ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. The emerging picture is that mountain glaciers around the world are undergoing retreat and that this is almost certainly due to rising global temperatures popularly termed 'global warming'.

The recent decline in mountain glaciers is of importance for society because in many regions, they play a key role in delivering melt-water for economic, agricultural and domestic use. Of even greater concern, however, is the potential impact on sea level rise, given that more than 100 million people now live at an elevation within 1 metre of sea level. Worryingly, estimates suggest that the contribution of melting glaciers to sea level rise may be increasing.

Many studies have reported increased glacier loss from across the world, substantiating the link between glacier retreat and global warming. Glacier change has been reported from Alaska, the Canadian Arctic, the tropics, the European Alps, Patagonia, the Peruvian Andes, and the Himalayas. For some areas, the potential impacts of the projected climate change have been evaluated including the potential changes in water balance and hazards associated with enhanced glacial melt. Surprisingly absent from this list, are some of the extensive glaciated areas of the Former Soviet Union (FSU). Individual mass balance data exist for some areas but there is a lack of an up-to-date synthesis for the latter part of the twentieth century. More often than not mass balance observations are not supported by detailed meteorological and hydrological observations and detailed projections of future climate change are not available.

The recognition of these gaps in our knowledge of climate-glacier dynamics in the mountains of the FSU instigated this research.

Project Overview

Climate Change and Glacier Dynamics in the Caucasus and in the Mountains of Southern Siberia is an integrated, multi-disciplinary, international project funded by the EU INTAS programme and  The Royal Society with combined funding of approximately €300,000.

It consists of two component projects:

  • Modelling Climate Change, Glacier Dynamics, and Water Availability in the Caucasus
  • Evaluating the Recent and Future Climate Change and Glacier Dynamics in the Mountains of Southern Siberia.

The main purpose is to assess the effects of climatic change and variability on the state of glaciers and glacier-dependent water resources of Northern Eurasia, from the Caucasus Mountains to eastern Sibera. The project studies four mountainous systems: Caucasus, Altay, Sayans, and Kodar. The response of these glaciers to future climate change is uncertain because glacier locations span more than one climatic zone and are influenced by radically different precipitation and temperature regimes.

The project is co-ordinated by the Department of Geography, The University of Reading and has partners in the UK, Germany, Austria, Russia, and Georgia. The research programme is relevant to th e NERC research on climate change, International Polar Year, Climate and Cryosphere (CliC), and Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS) international research projects.

The project runs from October 2005 to February 2009.

The project includes the following activities:

Glaciological monitoring and analysis

  • Mass balance monitoring and analysis of mass balance variations
  • Assessment of changes in glacier dimensions and state of glaciers through fieldwork
  • Assessment of non-climatic controls over glacier dynamics

Remote sensing

  • Assessment of changes in glacier dimensions and state of glaciers

Climate analysis and modelling

  • Assessment of the observed climatic variability and its links with changes in glacier mass balance
  • Analysis of micrometeorological controls over glacier melt
  • Construction of regional climate change scenarios through numerical regional climate modelling ( PRECIS modelling system based on the HadRM3 regional climate model) and statistical downscaling (SDSM package)

Modelling impacts of climate change on the observed and projected changes in:

  • Mass balance of individual glaciers and extent of glaciers on the scale of mountainous systems
  • Catchment-scale water balance (HBV-ETH hydrological model)

Dissemination of results to the potential users and stakeholders

  • The potential users are academics conducting research into the impacts of climate change, environmentalists, local practitioners and decision-makers. Data will be available via this web site.

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Dr Maria Shahgedanova

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