Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Project

Funding for these projects is through a U.S. Fulbright Grant, an American Alpine Club Research Grant, a Nikwax Alpine Bellwether Grant and the support of several companies and organizations.


1. Inventory Work

I am organizing an inventory of information including maps, historic records, climate information and photographs of the
At-Bashy Range. The entire At-Bashy inventory will be also be cataloged with The University of Central Asia to encourage future research. I currently in the process of searching across Kyrgyzstan for historic photographs suitable for use in a repeat photography project to complement ongoing investigations based on remote sensing. This work will be across the Tien Shan and will not be limited to the At-Bashy Range. Photographs will be added to the Global Photograph Collection at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.

2. Qualitative Research
I am currently finalizing my research methodology for my project "Field Based Assessment of Traditional Knowledge and Contemporary Perspectives of Glaciation ". This research will be conducted in jailoos (summer grazing pastures) and small mountain communities around the
At-Bashy Range. These communities rely on snow melt and glacial melt to sustain their semi-nomadic, livestock-based livelihoods. Despite numerous studies dramatic decreases in the Tien Shan systematic studies of what local people know and think are lacking from scientific literature.

3. Community Involvement
From a personal and professional level I am interested in becoming involved in local organizations and community projects. My current involvement is:

  • Volunteering with The Alpine Fund in Bishkek - a local organization that works to connect local youth and the mountains
  • Teaching avalanche safety classes: Winter recreation is in its infancy here, but developing quite rapidly. I am not interested in the tourism development aspects of this progression, but I am interested in increasing awareness of locals who work as guides. At this time I am planning to spend a couple weeks in Arsalanbob, Kyrgyzstan teaching basic avalanche awareness classes to local CBT (community-based tourism guides) that will include terrain management, assessing instability and rescue skills.
  • Collaboration with local research institutions and individuals: There are many projects currently ongoing in Kyrgyzstan regarding glaciers and mountain geography. I am interested in volunteering with some of these projects and learning from local researchers. Potential work exists with researchers at The University of Central Asia, The Central-Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences and The Kyrgyz Russian Slavic University.
  • Development of a "Mountains and Glacier program" encouraging interest in geography and the local mountains. I will present the program at elementary schools around Kyrgyzstan including The International School in Bishkek and public schools in At-Bashy and surrounding communities.

4. Contributions
I will be documenting my inventory work and research with The University of Central Asia and other organizations such as the National Snow and Ice Data Center. I am also interested in sharing information and increasing general awareness about
Kyrgyzstan with the public through the publication of articles in magazines, newspapers and other sources, such as this blog. Although I am most interested in promoting knowledge about the mountain places and people of Kyrgyzstan, I also look forward to sharing information about daily life in Central Asia. On my blog, I will be posting information ranging snow observations to the local gastronomical delights. Following the completion of my research I also expected to submitted articles for publication in scientific journals.

5. Mountain Goals
From a personal level I am very very excited by all the mountaineering and skiing possibilities that exist in
Kyrgyzstan. Some of these excursions may benefit my research specifically and some may be purely recreational. I plan on sharing these adventures through my blog and other alpine related publications.

6. Language Skills
A personal goal of mine is to develop a working proficiency of the Kyrgyz language and develop a basic knowledge of Russian. I am currently studying Kyrgyz 2-3 hours a day in hopes that by spring I will be able to engage in conversations and communicate my needs.

Detailed description of my research interests and goals

The Research Problem
The high mountain glaciers of the
Tien Shan act as the main water reservoir to millions of people in Central Asia. The World Glacier Monitoring Service and the United Nations Environment Program estimate that the total glaciated area within the Tien Shan has decreased approximately 25-35 percent in the 20th century, in a similar manner to patterns observed worldwide. The downstream effects of seasonal water scarcity due to glacial recession have local and international implications for food production, energy development, the articulation of water policies, and regional security.

The main goal of this proposal is to analyze the socio-ecological dimensions of glacial retreat at the local scale in remote mountain-based communities of the At-Bashy, a constituent of the central
Tien Shan, located in the southern portion of Kyrgyzstan. Quantitative data compilation will organize hydro-meteorological data, remote sensing data and historic records to create a local inventory and database of climate and glaciers in the At-Bashy. Qualitative social data analysis will address the perceptions and knowledge of glacier retreat and climate change held by local people.
My project will provide one the first empirical assessments linking the social and physical processes of glacial recession and climate change in the
Tien Shan. The development and organization of a local glacial and climate database is warranted in light of the limited ground-validated data available. It will provide a key incremental link to more complete future assessments of the impacts of glacial recession in the Tien Shan. The database will be archived and made easily accessible locally and internationally to be employed by researchers and communities. Additionally, no studies have incorporated or addressed local perceptions of climate change. Incorporating analysis of local traditions, knowledge and views of glacial recession with the development of a simple mountain geography education curriculum will engage local people into my project.

My personal goals include linking my interest in mountain geography with mountain people in the Tien Shan, engaging local people in my research, intensively studying Kyrgyz and gaining a working knowledge of Russian as well as contributing to the international scientific community through publication of my research in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and compiling data to be archived in online-accessible databases.

Study Site

The study area is located within the
At-Bashy Range, a constituent of the central Tien Shan, located in the southern portion of Kyrgyzstan. Numerous small communities within the At-Bashy Range utilize the mountain environment and glacial melt to sustain their semi-nomadic, livestock-based livelihoods. The town of Naryn will serve as the central base for this study. The University of Central Asia and Naryn State University has expressed support for my proposal and will provide institutional support and language support while I am carrying out my research. This affiliation will build upon an existing partnership between The University of Montana and Naryn State University as well as the existing Montana-Kyrgyzstan State Partnership Program. I will facilitate these partnerships with my plans to promote civilian-to-civilian and institutional scientific exchange. Furthermore, Dr. Sarah Halvorson, one of my faculty collaborators has working knowledge of the area as the result of her involvement in research on water issues in the Naryn Basin. The Alpine Fund, a local nonprofit in Kyrgyzstan that promotes youth education and involvement, has also committed to supporting my project. These pre-existing affiliations will provide me links to numerous contacts and allow access to resources and information on the area.

Methodology and Timeline

In the fall of 2009, when I arrive in
Kyrgyzstan, I will begin intensive tutoring in Kyrgyz and Russian in Bishkek. I will continue my language study with tutors or local classes through the entire duration of my stay, focusing on gaining strong conversational skills.

My research methodology will include two main components: quantitative data compilation and qualitative social data analysis and. To investigate the physical dimensions a compilation of existing quantitative data will be conducted. This inventory is warranted given that no accessible local databases of climate and ground-validated glacier inventories exist. The database will be a compilation of local weather records, climate history, hydrologic data, remote sensing analysis from international researchers, data from the Global Land Ice Measurements from Space project, maps, historic glacial photographs and local information regarding glaciers of the
At-Bashy Range. This inventory will be aided by my affiliations with Naryn State University, faculty collaborators at The University of Montana, international researchers who have worked in the Tien Shan and contacts within Kyrgyzstan. Additional analysis, including repeat photography and ground-validation of glacier recession could be incorporated if adequate historic data is recovered. Field work will be conducted during the summer of 2010. The primary goal is to assess current levels of data availability and organize a final database that will be archived and made accessible locally and internationally through a website, webserver or larger database. This compilation will provide a fundamental step to the monitoring and assessment of the impacts and mitigative strategies of glacial retreat in the Tien Shan.

I will begin my qualitative social analysis in the spring of 2009-2010. This will be facilitated by my relationship with The University of Central Asia,
Naryn State University and contacts I have through the Montana-Kyrgyzstan State Partnership and the grassroot organization, Community-Based Tourism (CBT), that links foreigners with a wider network of local homestays. Once I have spent several weeks in a village, I can begin to conduct interviews, compile historical information, and make observations about the impacts of glacial retreat on communities. Systematic interviews will be conducted and recorded with community leaders, household water managers, agriculturalists, religious leaders, teachers, and school children. The interviews will address multiple aspects including: oral traditions and religious values regarding glaciers and water; historical uses of water; and local knowledge of glaciers, glacial recession and climate change. Emphasis will be placed on compiling children’s understanding of glacial processes and climate change through interviews in schools and within homes. Working with teachers, community leaders and The Alpine Fund I plan to help develop school lesson plans on mountain geography, emphasizing glaciers and climate change. During the spring of 2010 significant amounts of time will be necessary to translate, transcribe, and organize information gathered from interviews and community observations to be prepared for a research paper for publication.

The interdisciplinary field based approach of this project will encourage international collaboration and engage local communities of the At-Bashy in unique assessment of the socio-ecological dimensions of glacial retreat. The products of the quantitative and qualitative research will further identification of local, regional and international vulnerabilities to and mitigative strategies to glacial retreat and climate change.