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Geodesy and Glaciology

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Climate variability and glacier evolution of Fedchenko Glacier, Pamir Mountains

The glaciers of the central Pamir in Central Asia seem to be much less affected by globally observed climatic changes than the glaciers in many other mountain regions. Remote sensing studies indicate that the glaciers in the central Pamir in particular have gained mass during the last decade. However, these indications are contradictory and not evenly distributed throughout the region.

In this research project, we are investigating the recent climate development and accumulation variability in the main accumulation area of the Fedchenko Glacier in the Pamir Mountains using combined geophysical and glaciological measurements. The Fedchenko Glacier is one of the largest mountain glaciers on earth and has, with 125 km³ of ice, about the same volume as all Alpine glaciers combined. The main accumulation basin is located at an altitude of more than 5100 m above sea level and forms one of the largest accumulation areas in the entire region. Detailed ground penetrating radar measurements are carried out to document the spatial and temporal variability of snow accumulation. These results are combined with data from snow pits and shallow firn cores for validating and extracting additional climate parameters, mainly the temperature signal. On this basis, the climate evolution over the last decades can be studied and correlated with the long-term observation series of the weather stations from the past.

Additional measurements of ice thickness distribution, surface deformation and ice velocities are used to determine the spatially distributed mass flux and compare it with the accumulation distribution. These measurements allow an ideal site for future ice core deep drilling to be identified, which could provide new insights into climate variability in Central Asia. The combination of these different measurements and the available climate data forms the basis for an evaluation of the sensitivity of glacier response to individual climate parameters. For the first time, the sensitivity of the accumulation zone to climatic variations can be evaluated on the basis of field data, in combination with remote sensing data and meteorological information. This analysis will significantly improve the understanding of the observed glacier changes in the Pamir Mountains in a climatic context.

Project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG)

Project title: Recent climate variability and glacier evolution in Central Asia - a case study at the accumulation zone of Fedchenko Glacier in the Pamir

Project scientist: Astrid Lambrecht

Project number: LA 1211/3-1