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Grad student talk - How important is snow and ice to Central Asian river flow?

Thursday, May 04, 2017, 12:30PM - 1:30PM


Alice Hill


SEEC room S225

Full title

How important is snow and ice to Central Asian river flow? An examination of water stressors in a highly volatile region


Water vulnerabilities in Central Asia are affected by a complex combination of climate sensitive water sources, trans-boundary political tensions, infrastructure deficiencies and a lack of water management organization from community to federal levels. Historical socio-political dynamics underpinning the ex-Soviet republics lie at the heart of tensions driven by mountain water resource limitations that are likely to serve as a spark for conflict in the region. I’ll present findings from field work during summer 2016 that clarify the drivers of water stress across Krygyzstan's 440km Naryn River basin, headwater stem to the Syr Darya and the disappearing North Aral Sea. We use a combination of human and physical geography approaches to understand the meltwater-controlled hydrology of the system (using hydrochemical mixing models) as well as the human-water experience (via community surveys). Surveys indicate that current water stress is primarily a function of water management and access issues resulting from the clunky transition from Soviet era large-scale agriculture to post-Soviet small plot farming. Snow and ice meltwaters play a dominant role in the surface and ground water supplies to downstream communities across the study’s 4220m elevation gradient, so future increases to water stress due to changes in volume and timing of water supply is likely given frozen waters’ high sensitivity to warming temperatures. The combined influence of social, political and climate induced pressures on water supplies in the Naryn basin suggest the need for proactive planning and adaptation strategies, and warrant concern for similar melt-sourced Central Asian watersheds.