The role of alpine cryosphere in endorheic basins of the world

The session “The role of alpine cryosphere in endorheic basins of the world” included only three presentation but was very well attended and, with time on our hands, we had a good discussion. The largest endorheic basins are in Asia so the talks focused on Central Asia and Tibet.

Christaine Meier of Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (Germany) opened the session with a tall ‘What are the controlling factors on water composition in the Amu Darya headwaters?’. The talk focused on the use of isotopic composition of water in the River Gunt in Tajikistan to establish the sources of water, e.g. precipitation, ground water or melt water. The analysis identified different sources of precipitation, e.g. depressions coming with the westerly flow in the western and central sections of the catchment, possibly Indian monsoon signal in the southern-most section of the catchment and re-evaporated water in the east.

Zamira Usmanova from the Institute of Geography and Kazakh National University, Kazkahstan presented her work on glacier change in the Tekes River basin. The Tekes is fed by snow and glacial melt and flows into the Ile River which in turn flows in the Lake Balkhash, one of the largest water bodies in Kazakhstan. The Tekes is a transboundary river crossing both Kazakh and Chinese territory. Changes in the area of clear ice of glaciers was assessed for several time periods, 1956 / 1962 – 1992, 1992-2013 and 1956/1962 – 2013. The earlier data were derived from the USSR (1956) and Chinese (1962) Catalogues of Glaciers and the later data were derived from Landsat. Overall, in 2013 the glaciers in the Kazakh and Chinese sectors lost 26% and 28% of the 1956/1962 areas respectively.

Jing-Jing Liu from the Institute of Mountainous Hazards and Environment, the Chinese Academy of Science presented a very detailed study of glacial lake outbursts in Tibet. She focused on assessment of factors leading to and modelling of the 1988 outburst of Lake Guangxieco. Increase in temperature and intense precipitation leading to strong glacial melt, increased velocity of glacier movement and stability of moraine dams were investigated. There was evidence of glacier surge and this factor together with weather factors were the main reasons for glacier outburst. The assessment suggested that there is a possibility that another outburst of this lake may occur in the future.

This was a productive and informative session where young scientists delivered their presentations with excellent knowledge and confidence. It was particularly good to see female scientists (yes, all three presenters plus convener!) participate with great confidence in research and field work which until very recently was male-dominated research and geographical domain. We all would like to acknowledge the role of Professor Vladimir Aizen who proposed this session at the very first Mountains Conference in Perth and has successfully run it since. Vladimir could not attend the conference this year but the effort he put into organising this session is very much appreciated.


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