Photo Friday: GIF Shows Dramatic Reduction of Gergeti Glacier

One of the largest glaciers in the Tergi River basin in Georgia is retreating drastically and there’s a GIF to prove it. This month, Levan Tielidze, a senior research scientist at the Institute of Geography at Tbilisi State University and Ph.D. student at Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, created a 3D map depicting the retreat of the Gergeti Glacier from 1882 to the present. This 3D map, or GIF, is the first of its kind from the Georgian Caucasus.

via GIPHY

The Gergeti Glacier lies within Kazbegi National Park in the Georgian Caucasus. Here, glaciers play a vital role in the ecology and economy of the region. They provide a freshwater source that feed rivers in the area. This water from glaciers is essential to river ecology, particularly during the summer months when rivers have lower flows. Without this source of water, the region would be left drier and more vulnerable to wildfires. Glacier retreat is also a threat to local economies. Tourism is important to the area, as glaciers within the National Park draw thousands of visitors annually. If the number of visitors declined significantly, it would result in economic consequences. Consequences that would ripple throughout the economy, beginning with those whose livelihoods depend on tourism.

Tielidze explained to GlacierHub how he developed the 3D map stating, “I used old topographical maps and satellite imagery to measure the perimeters of the glacier. The animation data shows that the Gergeti Glacier has been strongly reduced in the area since 1882.” According to Tielidze, this glacier lost 42 percent of its area between 1882 and 2019 with its front retreating nearly 3 km.

The GIF created by Tielidze opens with an early image of the Gergeti Glacier followed by four other snapshots from the last six decades. As can be seen in the GIF, the size of the glacier in 1882 is drastically different from its size today. This visualization shows the severity of glacier retreat in the Georgian Caucasus over the last 137 years. Tielidze also used his research to associate climate change with temperature trends in the period 1907-2009. His results suggest that rising temperatures have enhanced glacier retreat in the Georgian Caucasus, like that of the Gergeti Glacier.

Georgia contains 700 glaciers, all of which are affected by climate change. Tielidze warned that “if the increase of the temperature and decrease in the surface area of glaciers in the eastern Greater Caucasus continues over the 21st century, many will disappear by 2100.”

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