Glaciers of Tajikistan occupy about 6% of the national territory and play an essential role in the formation of Amu Darya River flow – the largest water system of Central Asia and Aral Sea basin shared by Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. On average, glacier melt in Tajikistan contributes 10-20% of the total runoff in the major regional river systems, while in dry and hot periods the input of glacier water into summer flow could be as high as 70%. Water is critically important for agriculture and hydropower production – the economic sectors that drive Tajikistan’s economy and are highly dependent on water.
Warming trends in high-altitude areas of Tajikistan, namely in the Pamirs and Zeravshan Mountains, correspond to the regional and global warming patterns and trigger observable changes in the climate sensitive environments such as glaciers.
Alarming examples of the glacier retreat due to climate warming include:
Pamirs’sFedchenko Glacier, the largest valley glacier of Central Asia, is currently retreating at rates 10-16 m per year, and its total retreat in the past 100 years have accumulated more 1 km. Almost all Fedchenko Glacier’s tributaries have became separated from its main body. Its surface in the lower part thinned by 50 m in the past 25 years and now covered by multiple glacial lakes and debris.
Garmo Glacier is significantly covered by debris and moraines and is melting most intensively in parallel breaking into the blocks. At times the speed of glacier’s retreat was 100 m a year. Since the first observation in 1932 to 2007 the glacier retreated for more than 7 km (!), which makes it the most significant retreat among the large glaciers of Central Asia over the same period of time.
Significant retreat of many other glaciers is observed. By the end of 20th century, Saukdara glacier in the Pamirs and Zeravshan glacier in central Tajikistan shrank by 2 km. Hundreds of small glaciers, such as Diahandara glacier (area less 1 sq.km) totally disappeared – only dust and moraine indicate their former existence. Dramatic retreat of the glaciers on the Pyanj (Amu Darya) River’s left bank in the Afghan Badakhshan (Safedi-Khirs, Kuhi-Lal, Gindikush, Wahan) is reported by the remote sensing scientists. Comparison of the cartographic materials from the 1950s, 1980s and the latest satellite imaginary suggest that glaciers of Afghanistan may have declined by 50-70%.
At high elevations 4,000 metres and above, where climate is cold and severe, glacier retreat is less pronounced and for some glaciers degradation rates make 1-2 m per year.
If the current rates of glacier retreat retain or intensify, we estimate that by 2050s glacier area of Tajikistan could reduce by 15-20% and many smaller glaciers will totally melt away. Climate warming is causing the retreat of glaciers and generation of large amounts of unconsolidated debris and glacial lakes which present the high risk for downstream communities in case of floods. Moreover, melting of glaciers is affecting the hydrology of many important rivers, such as Zeravshan, Vakhsh, Pyanj, Kafirnigan, Obihingou. Considering Tajikistan’s mountains and glaciers as water towers of Central Asia (<50% of freshwater resources are formed here), impacts of climate change and glacier degradation in the long term could shift and reduce water supply, affect the agricultural and energy security and sustainable development of the Amu Darya river basin.
This report with many visuals illustrating the scientific data on glaciers and climate change in Tajikistan is jointly prepared by the Agency on Hydrometeorology of the Republic of Tajikistan in cooperation with UNEP/GRID-Arendal.
The report is dedicated to the "International Polar Year 2007-2008" and the initiative of the President of the Republic of Tajikistan on the “International Fresh Water Decade: Water for Life”. This report aims to contribute to improved public understanding and awareness about the problem of glacier degradation in Tajikistan and global warming. This pilot version of the report contains more than 100 selected photos of glaciers, mountain lakes and field observations as well as 30 maps and graphics.
It is expected that this report will be further updated to include the analytical and regional information as well as translated to other languages, which will expand its usability for decision-makers and international exchange of information.
Coordinator and editor: Mr. Begmurod Mahmadaliev
Photos: A. Homidov, M. Kazakov, R. Tagoybekov, A. Yablokov, V. Novikov, A. Kayumov, N. Mustaeva
Maps and graphics: V. Novikov
Design: N. Mustaeva, T. Mustaev, F. Davlatov, N. Minikulov
Reference: "Glaciers of Tajikistan and global warming”. On-line report, 2007. Editor: B. Mahmadaliev, Agency on Hydrometeorology, the Republic of Tajikistan and UNEP/GRID-Arendal.
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