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Journal Article

Declining glaciers endanger sustainable development of the oases along the Aksu-Tarim River (Central Asia)


Bolch,  Tobias
External Organizations;

Duethmann,  Doris
External Organizations;


Wortmann,  Michel
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

Liu,  Shiyin
External Organizations;

Disse,  Markus
External Organizations;

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Bolch, T., Duethmann, D., Wortmann, M., Liu, S., Disse, M. (2022): Declining glaciers endanger sustainable development of the oases along the Aksu-Tarim River (Central Asia). - International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology, 29, 3, 209-218.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_27925
Tarim River basin is the largest endorheic river basin in China. Due to the extremely arid climate the water supply solely depends on water originating from the glacierised mountains with about 75% stemming from the transboundary Aksu River. The water demand is linked to anthropogenic (specifically agriculture) and natural ecosystems, both competing for water. Ongoing climate change significantly impacts the cryosphere. The mass balance of the glaciers in Aksu River basin was clearly negative since 1975. The discharge of the Aksu headwaters has been increasing over the last decades mainly due to the glacier contribution. The average glacier melt contribution to total runoff is 30–37% with an estimated glacier imbalance contribution of 8–16%. Modelling using future climate scenarios indicate a glacier area loss of at least 50% until 2100. River discharge will first increase concomitant with glacier shrinkage until about 2050, but likely decline thereafter. The irrigated area doubled in the Aksu region between the early 1990s and 2020, causing at least a doubling of water demand. The current water surplus is comparable to the glacial runoff. Hence, even if the water demand will not grow further in the future a significant water shortage can be expected with declining glacial runoff. However, with the further expansion of irrigated agriculture and related industries, the water demand is expected to even further increase. Both improved discharge projections and planning of efficient and sustainable water use are necessary for further socioeconomic development in the region along with the preservation of natural ecosystems.