Central Asian Glaciers Are Rapidly Depleting

The Central Asian glaciers of the Tian Shan mountain range have lost more than a quarter of their mass at a rate four times faster than the global average. A study led by GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences determined that nearly 27% of the range’s total mass and 18% of its area has been depleted between the years 1961 and 2012. All of the research’s findings were published in the Nature Geoscience journal.

Central Asian Glaciers: WHAT IS TIAN SHAN?

Tian Shan is the largest mountain range in Central Asia. Its water supply, much of which is derived from the glaciers, is vital to the region.

Glacier soften and snow from the mountains are crucial to the supply of water to parts of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. As such, the consequences of the depletion could be devastating. Xinjiang Uyghur, a northwestern region of China, relies on the range’s melt for water. The province’s natural gas, coal and oil reserves are important to the entire country’s economic growth, as the Christian Science Monitor mentioned.

It is even possible that a regional water shortage could result in war, as Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov warned in 2012.


Daniel Farinotti, the study’s lead author, analyzed data obtained by glaciological models, field research and satellites with his research team. The satellites – the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) and the Ice, Cloud, Land and Elevation Satellite (ICESat) – were used to determine measured changes in the ice between 2003 and 2009.

For one measurement project in the time period, the NASA-owned ICESat measured changes in the ice’s thickness by firing laser pulses at the surface of the glacier. For another, the GRACE did gravity readings on the surface to estimate ice mass.

As Farinotti told the Wall Street Journal, the purpose of using multiple methods was to minimize the harm of each one’s flaws: “Each method on its own is not ideal, but what gives us confidence is that the three methods see the same thing.”


“Currently we are in the golden phase, with relatively much water,” the scientist told Reuters. “But what could happen is quite worrisome.”

Researchers posited the loss of glacier mass’ cause to be the range’s increasing summer temperatures. If so, the phenomenon is likely the result of climate change.

“In the long term, the only way people are going to save glaciers is to reduce the increase of global temperatures,” Dr. Farinotti said.

Central Asian glaciers are rapidly melting. We need to preserve nature before it’s too late: