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Benchmark glaciers for monitoring in Afghanistan and Pakistan

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Key steps towards more data generation, sharing and regional cooperation to understand and mitigate climate change impacts

Benchmark glaciers for monitoring in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Identifying and investing in benchmark glaciers focuses limited resources on a representative glacier for maximum understanding of seasonal and long-term glacial change. This is critically important for the HKH region, which has experienced unprecedented speed and extent of glacial change. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan started cryosphere monitoring activities on benchmark glaciers, thus realizing a long-held goal to establish cryosphere monitoring activities in all HKH countries.

Since a minimum of 30 years of data are required to understand the trends and impacts of climate change, long-term glacier monitoring is essential to track changes in the cryosphere and develop forecasts to inform adaptation policies and mitigation actions. Cryosphere monitoring activities were first established in Nepal in 2011 and in Bhutan in 2015.

In Afghanistan, snow and glaciers are major water sources but the country is also prone to cryosphererelated disasters and its cryospheric phenomena are the least studied in the region. Since 2018, we have been working with our partners to improve water resources management, enhance livelihoods options for glacier-fed river-dependent communities, conserve ecosystems, and develop capacities in hydrological modelling and fieldbased glacier monitoring.

Following the criteria set by the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), the Pir-Yakh Glacier in central Afghanistan was selected as the benchmark glacier, and the first network of bamboo stakes for mass balance was installed in 2017. In 2019, the stake network was extended up to the accumulation area, and along with five additional stakes, an automatic weather station and hydrometeorological stations were installed along the glacier valley.

In Pakistan, snow and ice are important sources of water for domestic use, agriculture, and hydropower generation. With 7,253 known glaciers, Pakistan has the largest area under ice cover of any country in the HKH. In August 2019, Pakistan started cryosphere monitoring activities on Koshik Glacier in the Karakoram – a 5-km long clean glacier accessible from the Karakoram highway – which met the WGMS requirements for a benchmark glacier.

Having successfully collaborated with government agencies to start cryosphere monitoring activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we are a step closer to creating an enabling environment for our regional member countries to actively share information and use research results to design more effective development plans. This also strengthens our existing partnerships as we continue to carry out training and provide technical backstopping to our partners in the region, which is even more important now as countries begin to understand the importance of cryosphere monitoring.

The HKH region is experiencing unprecedented glacial change, making the establishment of cryosphere monitoring activities on benchmark glaciers in both Afghanistan and Pakistan timely and deeply significant for climate action.

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