US: A University of Colorado Boulder team partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to assess snow and glacier contributions to water resources originating in the high mountains of Asia that straddle 10 countries.
The researchers will use remote-sensing satellite data from NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency to develop time-series maps of seasonal snowfall amounts and recent changes in glacier extent, said Mark Williams, a fellow at CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and a CU-Boulder geography professor. They also will use local meteorological and river discharge data from throughout the High Asia study area.
The modelling results will be verified using geochemical and water isotope “tracer” techniques developed at CU that allow researchers to follow water as it courses through mountain landscapes. Critical to the project is the university’s expertise in remote sensing research through NSIDC — including assessing changes in Earth’s snow and ice cover — and INSTAAR’s research on the physical, chemical and biological processes in “critical zones,” which are the areas between treetops and groundwater. INSTAAR administers both the Long-Term Ecological Research site at Niwot Ridge west of Boulder and the Critical Zone Observatory project in the Boulder Creek watershed for the National Science Foundation.
The research will bring together scientists and government officials in the countries of High Asia to coordinate and compare results on what part of river flows come from glaciers and seasonal snow. This sharing of information is important because the rivers of Asia can cross several country borders. USAID support will contribute to the research and coordination and CU-Boulder will make its archived and new data on snow and ice easily available to all the countries and their citizens.
This assessment will be crucial in helping to forecast the future availability and vulnerability of water resources in the region, beginning with accurate assessments of the distinct, separate contributions to river discharge from melting glacier ice and seasonal snow. Such data ultimately will provide a better understanding of the timing and volume of runoff in the face of climate change, said the CU-Boulder researchers.
The High Asia mountains funnel water into such major river basins as the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Indus, Amu Darya and Syr Darya. The High Asian mountain ranges under study include the Himalaya, Karkoram, Hindu Kush, Pamir and Tien Shan. The mountain ranges straddle Bhutan, Nepal, China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.