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Expanding partnerships on glacier monitoring in Pakistan

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Sher Muhammad (center in back row), Remote Sensing Specialist at ICIMOD poses with training participants. Photo: Atta Ullah/AWKUM

A training workshop on glacier monitoring organised with Abdul Wali Khan University (AWKUM), Pakistan marked the beginning of a new partnership for improving cryosphere research in the country. Twenty-five participants including students, early career researchers and faculty members of AWKUM attended the training.

The three-day training, held from 29 to 31 December 2020, covered remote sensing and field-based glacier monitoring, good practices, and challenges in glacier mapping methods. This training builds on previous glacier monitoring activities in Pakistan with other institutions.

We have been working closely with several universities and institutes in Pakistan to initiate a long-term cryosphere monitoring programme in the region. In August 2019, the collaboration reached an important milestone when the Koshik glacier – a 5-km long debris-free glacier in Karakoram was identified as the benchmark glacier for the range. Field-based glacier monitoring activities on the glacier began soon after.

Monitoring glaciers in Pakistan is crucial for making informed decisions for sustainable water resource management given the region’s high dependency on glaciers as the water source for households, agriculture, energy generation, and in supporting key ecological habitats. The region also lacks experienced glaciologists to conduct cryosphere monitoring activities. As a part of the effort, we are working with relevant institutions in the regional member countries to train and improve the skills of their staff and set up benchmark glaciers for long-term monitoring.

Out of close to 54,000 glaciers in the region, only a few are consistently monitored on site. The targeted capacity building activities for partners is aimed at establishing and expanding the cryosphere monitoring network across the region to address this gap and to sustain the monitoring effort. In 2019, our regional team in Afghanistan along with members from Kabul University, the Ministry of Energy and Water, Government of Afghanistan set up a monitoring station on Pir-Yakh Glacier, a benchmark glacier and one of the first glaciers in Afghanistan selected for long-term mass balance monitoring.

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