Thursday, October 7, 2010

Preliminary Findings

At the end of September after 11 months abroad, I have returned to the United States to embark on on a coast to coast tour to visit family and friends. I was fortunate to present my preliminary findings at the University of Central Asia prior to departing Kyrgyzstan. In the coming months I will be preparing formal papers for submission for publication. Until then, this is just a short summary of my work to date...

While overwhelming evidence of glacial wastage is present, uncertainty still exists over projected human impacts.  Within the At Bashy Range, glacial are has receded 12% from 1970-2000 and an additional 4% from 2000-2007 (Narama, 2010). Historic temperature records indicate that temperatures have risen over the past 80 years, while precipitation records do not show any significant trends.

Despite the heightened awareness of climate change in Central Asia, there is an absence of qualitative research addressing local people’s observations and perceptions of changes and impacts.  Over the past year, my research focused on integrating existing quantitative research with field based qualitative social research that was missing from the discussion.

Results of my case study are from interviews, focus groups and informal conversations conducted in Kyrgyz with the help of a local field assistant. Extended periods of observation in remote mountain pastures and rural villages were essential to my research. In formal interviews, study participants were asked open-ended questions about the importance of the glaciers and mountains.  Additionally they were asked about long-term visible changes in glaciers, land and water and the impacts those changes were having on their lives and communities.

I was able to complete 76 formal interviews that ranged from half and hour to four hours in length. Conversations revealed that although local people in the At Bashy unanimous recognize the importance of mountains and glaciers as a source of cultural identity and a physical resource, there is a wide range of opinions and observations detailing environmental change.

It does not appear that residents in At Bashy are facing any increased stress from current reductions in glacial area, although seasonal water scarcity remains a future concern for many. To date dramatic historical, social and political instabilities have strongly shaped local perspectives on change. People still identify the environment as the most important resource. Potentially future climatic changes, such as warmer temperatures and increases in precipitation, could result in positive impacts for herding livelihoods. Small reductions in runoff will not dramatically affect residents of the At Bashy Range due to their advantageous location at the head of the watershed. However, these same small reductions would have great downstream implications for agriculture, irrigation and energy generation.

Repeat Photography

Repeat photography can complement recent investigations based on remote sensing and computer modeling. It can provide a strong tool that visually represents changes. In my first months in Kyrgyzstan I can across photographs of glaciers taken in the At-Bashy Range in the 1960s that were incorporated into the USSR Catalog of Glaciers. Only a few photographs were suitable to document changes in glacial cover because in many of the photographs it was difficult to distinguish between seasonal snow coverage and glacial area. This summer I returned to two locations in the At Bashy Range on several occasions. In both cases even after repeat visits I was unable to return to the exact location of the original photograph. It appears that one of the photographs was possibly taken from aircraft. In addition to the difficulty of relocation efforts, the summer weather was less than ideal. The At- Bashy Range receives the majority of its precipitation in the summer, including snow at high elevations. This past winter was a record snow year and the mountains remained blanketed in seasonal snow for most of the summer.

In my attempts the resulting photographs do not offer much scientific value. They do highlight that retreat is not extreme and offer an interesting glance into the past.