Back to overview

Accelerated glacier shrinkage in the Ak-Shyirak massif, Inner Tien Shan, during 2003–2013

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Petrakov, Dmitry; Shpuntova, Alyona; Aleinikov, Alexandr; Kääb, Andreas; Kutuzov, Stanislav; Lavrentiev, Ivan; Stoffel, Markus; Tutubalina, Olga; Usubaliev, Ryskul
Project Debris flow and outburst flood hazard in Tian Shan under impact of changing climate
Show all

Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Science of The Total Environment
Volume (Issue) 562
Page(s) 364 - 378
Title of proceedings Science of The Total Environment


Abstract The observed increase in summer temperatures and the related glacier downwasting has led to a noticeable decrease of frozen water resources in Central Asia, with possible future impacts on the economy of all downstream countries in the region. Glaciers in the Ak-Shyirak massif, located in the Inner Tien Shan, are not only affected by climate change, but also impacted by the open pit gold mining of the Kumtor Gold Company. In this study, glacier inventories referring to the years 2003 and 2013 were created for the Ak-Shyirak massif based on satellite imagery. The 193 glaciers had a total area of 351.2 ± 5.6 km2 in 2013. Compared to 2003, the total glacier area decreased by 5.9 ± 3.4%. During 2003–2013, the shrinkage rate of Ak-Shyirak glaciers was twice than that in 1977–2003 and similar to shrinkage rates in Tien Shan frontier ranges. We assessed glacier volume in 2013 using volume–area (VA) scaling and GlabTop modelling approaches. Resulting values for the whole massif differ strongly, the \{VA\} scaling derived volume is 30.0–26.4 km3 whereas the GlabTop derived volume accounts for 18.8–13.2 km3. Ice losses obtained from both approaches were compared to geodetically-derived volume change. \{VA\} scaling underestimates ice losses between 1943 and 2003 whereas GlabTop reveals a good match for eight glaciers for the period 2003–2012. In comparison to radio-echo soundings from three glaciers, the GlabTop model reveals a systematic underestimation of glacier thickness with a mean deviation of 16%. GlabTop tends to significantly underestimate ice thickness in accumulation areas, but tends to overestimate ice thickness in the lowermost parts of glacier snouts. Direct technogenic impact is responsible for about 7% of area and 5% of mass loss for glaciers in the Ak-Shyirak massif during 2003–2013. Therefore the increase of summer temperature seems to be the main driver of accelerated glacier shrinkage in the area.