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Water Tower of Central Asia Keeps Shrinking: Study

Jan 16, 2017

Total water storage in Central Asia has been decreasing in the last half century due to accelerating glacier melting caused by global warming, a research led by professor CHEN Yaning from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography in Urumqi found recently. 

Landlocked in the deep far interior of Eurasia, Central Asia is mostly arid and semi-arid, with seasonal snowmelt as its main water source. But aggravating climate change has posed a threat to the region, as rising temperature caused warmer winters and less snow, resulting in the decease of total water storage. 

In arid and semi-arid regions, mountains are important water suppliers, as they feed most of the local rivers. The Tienshan Mountains are “water tower” of the Central Asia, and is the main water source and ecological barrier in this region.  

However, CHEN and his team found that the snow cover area in the Tienshan Mountains decreased significantly in the last half century. “Approximately 97.52% of glaciers in the Tienshan Mountains showed a retreating trend, which was especially obvious in the North and East Tienshan Mountains,” said CHEN. 

Researchers found that the temperatures in the Tienshan Mountains area have soared by 0.3-0.45 degrees Celsius per decade, apparently higher than the average global warming rate and that of the Northern Hemisphere during the same period. 

Climate change accelerates the global water cycle, exacerbates extreme hydrological events, intensifies the uncertainties of water resources, and causes the water-based ecosystem in Central Asia to become increasingly fragile, according to CHEN. 

“This in turn will impact the relationship between countries in Central Asia and the construction of the Silk Road economic belt,” he said. 

Their research was published in Scientific Reports, entitled “Changes in Central Asia’s Water Tower: Past, Present and Future". For detail please refer to http://www.nature.com/articles/srep35458. 

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