The World Nomad Games proclaims its slogan for all to hear: “United in Strength! United in Spirit!”
The 2018 iteration of the biennial games took place in the Kyrgyz Republic on September 2, nestled in the northeast of Centra Asia and the Tien Shan mountains. 90 percent of the country’s land is over 1,500 meters above sea level, and it’s almost entirely mountainous, so it is no surprise that the main source of water is from glacial meltwater.
The games were created in 2012 to revitalize and preserve nomadic culture. This year featured thousands of athletes from 77 countries competing in 37 types of ethnosports. “The mission of the World Nomad Games covers the revival, development and preservation of the ethnoculture, diversity and originality of the people of the world in order to foster a more tolerant and open relationship between people,” states the official website. The event is broken into three sections: ethnoculture, enthnosport, and science. It features diverse activities that range from folklore and traditional intellectual games to traditional wrestling and salbuurun, their form of hunting with local wildlife.
For this week’s Photo Friday, take a look at the 2018 World Nomad Games, as well as competitions from years past.
Around the world, meltwater from snow and glaciers has provided surrounding communities with water for irrigation and hydropower, but climate change is altering the timing and volume of the annual water flow cycle. This issue is pressing in eastern Kyrgyzstan, where the glaciers and snowpack of the Tien Shan Mountains form the headwaters of the Naryn River, which flows westward across Kyrgyzstan before crossing the border into Uzbekistan. A recent study in the journal Water by Alice F. Hill et al. analyzed water chemistry from the Naryn River Basin to find changes in the contribution of mountain headwaters to river discharges that flow downstream to agricultural areas.
Agriculture accounts for 29 percent of the country’s GDP (2010 figures) and more than half of its labor force. The study’s aim was to capture key hydrologic transitions over the diverse domain by using a hydro-chemical mixing model, known as End Member Mixing Analysis, to distill multi-variate water chemistry data from samples, in order to quantify water contributions from river discharge to agricultural areas serving larger populations. By using a remotely sensed product to quantify the rain, seasonal snow, and glacial melt inputs, the study found that when glacial ice mass decreases, it contributes less to river water supplies.
Government Policies and Water Management
These trans-boundary water sources have been a topic of relations between the Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan since their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, with water resource management poorly coordinated between the five republics. Recently, new infrastructure, such as dams and diversions, have been developed, creating problems for neighbors that live downstream.
“The Kyrgyzstan government insists increased precipitation and snowmelt are to blame for natural hazards and fatalities. Scientists have yet to determine the cause of such weather anomalies in Southern Tian Shan,” said Ryskeldi Satke, a Kyrgyz journalist, in an interview with GlacierHub. “On the other hand, it was known that climate change worries experts and researchers over its impact on snow melt in the Tian Shan and Pamirs. Subsequently, more ground research and cooperation would be needed to explain weather patterns in the region.”
Kyrgyzstan has over 8,000 glaciers, accounting for 4.2 percent of the country’s territory. The consumption of irrigation water for agriculture represents 94 percent of total water use, while only three percent is allocated to households and industries. Livelihoods depend on the river flow from these glaciers, which have been shrinking since the 1930s, according to research. In order to better understand the implication of the infrastructure developments, Hill and her colleagues conducted a survey in both upstream and downstream communities. They asked questions relating to changes in water availability for irrigation, food, and recreation, as well as changes in household activities, estimated income, and income structure over the last 15 years.
The researchers conducted the survey across a 440 km stretch of the Naryn River to better understand the challenges that the people of the Naryn basin face in obtaining adequate water supplies. All communities reported an overall decrease in water access over the last 15 years. Therefore, some communities installed groundwater wells, mainly in higher portions of the basin.
Since the 1960s, the Toktogul district, for example, has been limited by low water availability, scarcity in lands and funds, and a lack of trust in the government. Unfortunately, farmers were not given the proper resources or equipment to build an irrigation or water distribution system, according to the study. There was a lack of government support for farmers who were unable to deal with the harsh conditions on their land, the researchers noted. Therefore, yields began to decrease and the irrigation systems deteriorated. This led the farmers and surrounding neighbors to believe that there has not been any positive socio-economic change within their communities.
According to the survey, downstream communities are more eager to migrate to other countries in search of a higher income, while upstream communities remain more optimistic of finding solutions to the water shortage. In an interview with GlacierHub, Cholpon Minbaeva, one of the co-authors of the study, stated, “The scope of the resettlement in the Toktogul reservoir was something that I didn’t anticipate. Almost all villages near the reservoir were resettled because of the reservoir construction.”
With climate change altering river discharge and increasing the likelihood of droughts, heat waves, and crop losses, the agricultural communities in the Naryn basin will continue to be significantly affected. Due to historic failed water management, water access in the region has been unreliable. To mitigate water stress, local, regional, and national government management programs need to improve the water resource infrastructure and delivery. More effective information management systems could also contribute to better management of the river basin’s water resources, including better control of water returned from irrigation systems to the river.
From Nature: “On a glorious January morning in 2015, the Australian icebreaker RSV Aurora Australis was losing a battle off the coast of East Antarctica. For days, the ship had been trying to push through heavy sea ice… Then the weather came to the rescue, with a wind change that blew the ice away from the shore, opening a path through the pack… Rintoul and his team were the first scientists to reach the Totten Ice Shelf — a vast floating ice ledge that fronts the largest glacier in East Antarctica… The team had to work fast before the ice closed again and blocked any escape. For more than 12 hours, Rintoul and his colleagues carried on non-stop, probing the temperature and salinity of the water, the speed and direction of ocean currents as well as the shape and depth of the ocean floor… These first direct observations confirmed a fear that researchers had long harboured… East Antarctica is well below sea level, which makes it more vulnerable to the warming ocean than previously thought.”
From Ecography: “The Antarctic Peninsula is among the places on Earth that registered major warming in the last 60 years… The loss of sea-bed ice coverage, on the one hand has been affecting benthic assemblages, but on the other it is opening up new areas for benthic colonization. Potter Cove (South Shetland Islands) offered the opportunity of assessing both processes. We recently reported a sudden shift of benthic assemblages related to increased sedimentation rates caused by glacier retreat. This glacier retreat also uncovered a new island that presents a natural experiment to study Antarctic benthic colonization and succession… Under the current scenario of climate change, these results acquire high relevance as they suggest a two-fold effect of the Antarctic Peninsula warming: the environmental shifts that threaten coastal ecosystems, and also the opening up of new areas for colonization that may occur at a previously unimagined speed.
International capacity-building collaborations have been initiated to observe glaciers and develop action plans in the tropical Andes and Central Asia. A recent study titled “Glacier Monitoring and Capacity Building,” by Nussbaumer et al., highlights the importance of glaciers in the Andes and Central Asia for water management, hydropower planning and natural hazards.
The Andes and Central Asia are among regions with the least amount of glacier observation data. For Central Asia, this was the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union from 1989 to 1991. In the Andes, institutional instability has been a continuous threat to the continuity of its glacier monitoring program. Monitoring glaciers in these regions can help mountain communities regulate their freshwater supply, manage the risks of glacier related hazards such as avalanches, and track declining runoff, all of which will have consequences for their socioeconomic development. Unfortunately, these two regions are also particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
As one of the seven South American countries that contain the Andes Mountain Range, Peru recently utilized its glacier monitoring capabilities to assess potential flood risks posed by rapidly changing glaciers in the Cordillera Blanca, a smaller mountain range in the Andes.
Samuel Nussbaumer, the study’s lead author and a climate scientist, explained some of the hazards that changing glaciers can cause in Peru to GlacierHub. He explained that since there are “many new lakes emerging from retreating glaciers, ice could avalanche into these lakes,” which can be dangerous for the surrounding community. To reduce disaster risks in mountainous regions, glacier monitoring is crucial.
“If an event happens, and glacier data is already prepared, then the community can assess the risk and determine why the event happened,” continued Nussbaumer.
Another way that monitoring glaciers in these regions can help mountain communities is through freshwater supply regulation. The Cordillera Vilcanota in southern Peru provides water to the densely populated Cusco region. Glacier changes in Cordillera Vilcanota and other former Soviet Union countries in Central Asia, can have drastic consequences on the freshwater supply in mountain communities.
The majority of freshwater on Earth, about 68.7 percent, is held in ice caps and glaciers. The authors argue that data-scarce regions like Central Asia and the Andes must strengthen their glacier monitoring efforts to inform water management. This will help buffer the high and increasing variability of water availability in these regions.
Furthermore, in Central Asia, interest and awareness in rebuilding the scientific, technical, and institutional capacity has risen due to water issues in the region. Declining freshwater runoff is spurring glacier awareness in Central Asia, specifically in Kyrgyzstan.
“Any assessment of future runoff has to rely on sound glacier measurements and meteorological data in order to get reliable results,” Nussbaumer said.
To sustain capacity-building efforts, Nussbaumer et al. recommend strengthening institutional stability and resources throughout both regions. Nussbaumer concludes that “direct glacier measurements (in situ data) are key to achieving contributions to sustainable mountain development.”
Training youth to monitor and research local glaciers in their community could be a helpful approach. By monitoring how local glaciers change and evolve over time, communities in the Andes and Central Asia can strengthen their hazard management and freshwater regulation capacity. Local research capacities could also be improved by minimizing the bureaucratic barriers that block the implementation of glacial research projects.
The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), which is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme, has a new project called “Capacity Building and Twinning for Climate Observing Systems” (CATCOS). Professor Martin Hoelzle of the University of Fribourg believes that CATCOS can support developing countries, and help them contribute to the international glacier research and monitoring community. CATCOS is working with developing countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan so that they may contribute to worldwide glacier data monitoring networks.
Glaciers in the Andes and Central Asia ultimately enhance the resilience of mountain ecosystems through their freshwater provision and hazard management. Monitoring and protecting them benefits local mountain communities throughout Asia and South America. To learn more about capacity building and glacier monitoring in developing countries, visit the World Glacier Monitoring Service here. You can also find information about the study’s funding agency, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, here.