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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Water resources response on glacier dynamics in Central Asia transboundary river basins

PI: Tamara Tuzova (, EnConsult and Institute of Water Problems and Hydro Power of the National Academy of Sciences of Kyrgyzstan
Project Dates: December 2015 - November 2018

Project Overview

Water is both a crucial limiting resource and a central unifying element in coupled human-natural systems, particularly in arid regions. The rivers of Central Asia originate in high mountains that support an syncretistic civilization and vibrant ecosystems, as well as agricultural and economic activity of increasing regional and global importance. The water resources system in Central Asia is under stress due to multiple interrelated drivers of change. The water supply from seasonal snow and glacial melt is and will be impacted by climate change, and water demands will continue to increase with population growth and land use change. This project will deliver important information about long-term climate and glacier-water resources changes in a major transboundary river basin of Central Asia, specifically the Amu Darya River basin and its tributarities in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. New advanced data on Central Asia deglaciation during the Holocene based on the glacial moraine physical stratigraphy and isotope-chemistry analyses (14С, 234U/238U, 16О/18О) are critical, particularly for the poorly studied transboundary river basins, to understand the past and possible future scenarios of deglaciation and water resources change under global and regional climate change impacts. The new data to be obtained in the project will enrich the research program being carried out by the U.S. Government-supported partner and colleagues in their project on spatial-temporal changes in climate and glacier water resources in Central Asia. By comparing the data to be collected in this project with existing paleoclimate records from ice cores in the Altai, Tien Shan, Pamir, Kunlun, Tibet, and the Himalayas, the researchers will gain better understanding of Asian climate variability during the Holocene. This will reveal the dynamics in space and time of major historical climatic events and periods that have occurred in Asia. Understanding the mechanisms and rate of past climate and glacier variability in Asia is crucial to developing new methods for glacier-water resources prediction, vulnerability metrics, and adaptation strategies.

Specific project tasks include analyzing meteorological and hydrological data sets from the last 50-100 years and integrating them with new data on paleoclimate and deglaciation to elucidate water resource variability within the transboundary river basins. Analysis of the modern and Holocene time set data will help predict possible water resource changes in the future and evaluate adaptation options that respond to environment requirements, agricultural and urban demands, ecosystem services, and flood management. The gaps in hydrological measurements and total absence of data following the disintegration of the USSR will be complimented by new research data obtained during the project. The results of the project should help officials in the region take timely measures to adapt to climate change, alleviate its effects, and relieve the international stress caused by the growing deficit of water resources.

Summery of Recent Activities

The following activities were undertaken from December 2017 to March 2018:

  • Analysis of the 2017 field data and testing two field methods of uranium precipitation from water and ice samples collected to determine uranium content and isotopic ratios;
  • Alpha-spectrometry measurements of uranium isotopic ratios in ice and water of trans-boundary rivers in the Tien Shan and Pamir-Alai regions, including interpretation of results;
  • Pre-lab preparation of samples collected from stadial moraines in the Tien Shan and Pamir in 2017 for radiocarbon dating: - Extraction of autochthonous organic detritus from concentrated organic samples;
  • Enrichment of humus-bearing fine moraine soils with further testing to identify humic acids for radiocarbon dating;
  • Shipment of 42 samples to geochronology laboratories in Hungary and Germany for radiocarbon dating; - Interpretation of ages obtained by radiocarbon dating for samples from stadial moraines (collected in 2016);
  • Dissemination: Four papers prepared for publication in cooperation with the US partner and presentation of project results at three international conferences;

4-454 Water Sampling4-454 Moraine and Ice Sampling
The team conducted a number of field visits to collect water, ice, and moraine samples (photo courtesy of Dr. Tuzova).

In the next few months, the team will prepare for and participate in a high-level international conference to be held as part of the UN-declared International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development, 2018-2028 (Dushanbe, June 20-25). The PI will also work on the interpretation of water, ice and moraine sample measurements (collected in 2017). Additional fieldwork will be conducted to collect more samples from high-altitude zones of transboundary rivers for uranium isotope analysis and link them to radiocarbon ages of moraine sediments. Finally, the team will finalize a paper titled “Radiocarbon Dating of Moraines Using Autochthonous Organic Matter. Methodological Aspects of ISTC Project Kr-330.2 and PEER 454” due to be published this summer.

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