Glacier area and mass changes since 1964 in the Ala Archa Valley, Kyrgyz Ala-Too, northern Tien Shan

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Glaciers are an important source of fresh water for Central Asia as they release water during the summer months when precipitation is low and water demand highest. Many studies address glacier area changes but only changes in glacier mass can be directly linked to climate and runoff. Despite the importance, investigations of glacier mass changes have been restricted to only a few glaciers in the Tien Shan until now. Geodetic mass balance measurements are suitable to complement and extend existing in-situ measurements. In this study, both area and mass changes of the ~40 km² glacier ice in the Ala Archa Valley, Kyrgyz Tien Shan, were investigated using 1964 and 1971 stereo Corona, 2012 stereo ASTER, the SRTM digital terrain model and other optical data such as Landsat ETM+ or Rapid Eye. In addition, ice thickness was modeled taking the basal shear stress and the glacier surface topography into account. The results indicate an area loss of 18.3±5.0% from 1964 until 2010 with continuous shrinkage in all investigated periods. The glacier’s mass balance was −0.45±0.27 m w.e. a−1 for the period 1964–1999 and −0.42±0.66 m w.e. a−1 for 1999–2012. Golubin Glacier showed a possible slight mass gain for 1964– 1971 and a decelerated mass loss for the 1999–2012 period. This is in good agreement with existing in-situ measurements exiting from 1962 until 1994 and since 2010. The overall ice volume was estimated to be 1.56±0.47 km³ of ice in the year 2000. Hence, the entire ice would be lost by 2100 if the mass loss would continue at the same rate
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-39
JournalIce and Snow
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Geodetic mass balance
  • Tien Shan
  • Central Asia


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