Phase 3 (2007 Deadline)
Upper Indus River-Flow Reconstructions Using Tree Rings: Implications
for Agriculture and Hydroelectricity
Edward R. Cook, Columbia University
Moinuddin Ahmed, Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences, and Technology, Karachi
Pakistani Funding (HEC): $ 140,000
US Funding (USAID): $ 100,000
Project Dates on US Side: April 1, 2008 - March 31, 2011
Pakistan is one of the world’s most arid countries, with an average annual rainfall of less than 240 mm. The population and the economy are heavily dependent on an annual influx of water into the Indus river system, primarily from melting snow. Severe declines in the flow of the Indus River pose a great threat to Pakistan, particularly if they are especially severe and long-lasting (so-called “megadroughts”). Elsewhere there is strong archaeological evidence for the destabilizing influence of past droughts on advanced agricultural societies, something that should resonate today given the increasing vulnerability of modern water-based systems (both agricultural and hydroelectrical) to relatively short-term droughts. Understanding how past river-flow changes have developed and persisted is a timely scientific problem. However, a recent World Bank report on the topic clearly states that the science is in its infancy and that there is an inadequate knowledge base. The researchers involved in this project worked to address this point. Monitored river discharge records of the Indus River are simply too short (less than 40 years) to capture the range of past conditions, so surrogate or proxy-climate indicators must be used to provide the long-term record. Tree rings are the only suitable proxy that has been proven to be sensitive to changes in moisture supply, able to provide broad spatial coverage, has clearly-resolved annual resolution, can be exactly dated, and provide long enough records.
Fortunately, the northern area of Pakistan has forests containing a range of species that can provide long annual tree-ring chronologies thanks to the pioneering research undertaken by the Pakistani principal investigator, Dr. Ahmed. In this project, he and his US partners worked to create a network of tree-ring chronologies from the catchments of the upper Indus River and reconstruct river-flow for at least the last 150 years. Similar work has been successfully done in the United States, and two key people involved in that research (Dr. Cook and collaborating researcher Dr. Connie Woodhouse of the University of Arizona) were included in this project. The reconstructions will provide key information for the management of the river as well as provide a baseline from which to evaluate scenarios of future climatic change.
- Developed a network of long-term tree-ring records in the Upper Indus Basin to reconstruct past flow (discharge) levels of the Indus River
- Discovered that the record of measured discharge levels only started back in 1962 (48 years) whereas the tree-ring based reconstruction extends back to 1470 (some 540 years)
- Discovered that the 1990-2008 riverflow level has been anomalously high and a return to levels typical for a low-flow period would have catastrophic effects on agricultural and hydroelectric production and livelihoods
- Provided training to three Pakistani PhD students under the supervision of local PI Prof. Moinuddin Ahmed, including extensive field and lab training during the US team’s visits and via the Internet
- Presented a series of workshops and seminars led by Prof. Ahmed, as well as more than 15 project-related presentations by project team members at various conferences and workshops
- Delivered extensive training to FUUAST laboratory staff on using software and interpreting results
The final major activity on this project was a workshop on riverflow data reconstruction held in Karachi in November 2010, which featured the participation of Dr. Jonathan Palmer, a consultant on the project, as well as Dr. Connie Woodhouse. The project was completed as of March 31, 2011, and the final report is available through the link below. Click here to see an article on the project that appeared in the Pakistani English-language daily Dawn in June 2011.
Progress Report Summaries
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2010 Show summary || Hide summary
As of 2010, the researchers on this project have been able to accomplished three main objectives of this project: a) they completed the processing and compiling of the tree-ring data into site chronologies. They now have a total of 28 tree-ring sites available for river-flow reconstructions. The network of tree-ring chronologies from major catchments of the upper Indus River has been developed and has been used to investigate the strength of any climate signals; b) The preliminary results from the study demonstrate that the tree-ring records can be applied to reconstruct past river flow levels as well as to evaluate past drought frequency. Further modeling is being undertaken and the results are being collated for publication; and c) In November 2010 Dr. Palmer and another U.S. colleague, Dr. Connie Woodhouse, visited Pakistan to participate in a workshop and training course on riverflow data reconstruction and to continue working with Dr. Ahmed and WAPDA officials on collecting and analyzing data. The event, which was attended by the federal minister of science and technology, received national coverage in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. The newspaper also ran another recent article on Dr. Ahmed's research.
2009 Show summary || Hide summary
Dr. Palmer made a third visit to Pakistan for additional field sampling and training from September 29 through October 26, 2009, during which he also presented a 3-day training course at GC University, Lahore, on introduction to tree-ring studies and relevant applications. Dr. Ahmed also presented several other workshops or seminars during 2009 to disseminate information about the project to faculty and students at his own university and others. Meanwhile, the research teams also continued work in 2009 to analyze the tree-ring measurements and the measured river-flow data and begin preparing preliminary models of the tree-ring data. During his fall 2009 visit, Dr. Palmer provided additional training on the use of software tools and collection techniques. As of the end of 2009, the partners reported having collected samples from 6 different tree species at 18 sites, with some of the trees sampled being up to 700 years old. Additional sampling field trips were planned in the spring and summer of 2010, and a national conference was to be organized in April 2010. Efforts also proceeded to obtain riverflow data from Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) so that this information could be incorporated into the models being developed.
2008 Show summary || Hide summary
After receiving his grant funds in April 2008, Dr. Cook immediately made plans to send a consultant on the project, Dr. Jonathan Palmer of New Zealand, to Pakistan. His trip was to include field work in cooperation with the Pakistani partners.. On this visit and a second visit by Dr. Palmer October 27 – November 15, 2008, the researchers were able to collect core samples from conifer species at 14 sites in the Gilgit, Astore, and Skardu areas. In additional to assisting with field sampling, Dr. Palmer also helped his Pakistani colleagues install new equipment and provided intensive training on field sampling techniques, the use of specialized tree-ring measurement equipment, and the use of dedicated software tools for tree-ring analyses.
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