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Making my way up Pir-Yakh Glacier (over 5,000 masl) was challenging and very dangerous, with deep crevasses on the path and the biting chill and altitude sapping my energy. Located in Paryan District of Panjshir Province in Afghanistan, the glacier – which means “old ice” in Persian – is notoriously difficult to reach. However, it was an expedition that has to be regularly made: Pir-Yakh Glacier is one of the first glaciers in Afghanistan to be selected for long-term mass balance monitoring.
Our team comprised representatives from Kabul University; ICIMOD (Afghanistan country office); and the Ministry of Energy and Water, Government of Afghanistan. The expedition was organized by ICIMOD and funded by the Government of Australia. The team embarked on its journey on 26 August 2019 with two objectives: first, installing the first-ever automatic weather station (AWS) at 4,528 masl and a rain gauge sensor (RG3) with pressure-level sensor and air temperature sensor along the valley; and second, installing ablation and accumulation stakes on the glacier for mass balance measurement and analysis.
For the past two years, Kabul University experts have been researching on the glacier’s mass balance. They installed two stakes on 2017 and 2018, and after collecting the 2018 data, we planned to extend the stake network to five stakes. Our team comprised 10 people, including local supporting staff who carried the heavy construction equipment needed for setting up the stakes and the AWS.
We reached the Pir-Yakh Glacier base camp on 27 August after a day-and-a-half long trek. After a night’s rest, we climbed the glacier and conducted our monitoring activities. The sky was clear and the sun was shining when we set about on our task – ideal conditions for working at high altitudes. We started drilling the ice and installed the new stakes within a stretch of about 100 m in elevation. Before heading back to the base camp, we measured the glacier’s mass balance.
On 28 August, we set about to install an AWS near the glacier. We first found a suitable site for the station, which was 28 m above the first mass balance stake. After three exhausting hours of work on the AWS at 4,528 masl (the highest-altitude AWS in Afghanistan), we were able to successfully to install the first-ever AWS near the glacier in the country.
On 29 August, we went down to install other RG3 sensors along the valley, selecting sites according to the GPS points determined during a refresher training at the ICIMOD headquarters held on 9–13 July 2019 in Kathmandu, Nepal. We installed three rain gauge and one pressure-level sensor along the small river and across the valley.
Community participation was instrumental during this expedition. Locals assisted the team in transporting heavy technical equipment to the glacier. Apart from economic benefits from the involvement in the expedition, locals also had the opportunity to improve their knowledge about the equipment and their uses. In the near future, our team will be able to collect data from the AWS and stakes and conduct analyses on Pir-Yakh Glacier’s health – metrics such as water balance, discharge coefficient, surface and volume changes, glacier movement, glacier mass balance, and snow water equivalent – that will be of consequence to the local community.
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