How Environmental Change in Central Asian Highlands Impacts High Elevation Communities

Climatic, environmental, institutional, and sociodemographic changes have occurred across Central Asia—and Kyrgyzstan in particular—in recent decades. Many of these changes and their significance are not well known outside of the region. Indeed, the 2017 IPCC Assessment Report (AR5) suggests that there are more knowledge gaps about the consequences of climate change in Central Asia than any other region in Asia. A scientific investigation funded by the NASA Land Cover/Land Use Change program has investigated the linkages between changes in temperature, precipitation, snow cover, and vegetation growth in the highland pastures of Kyrgyzstan and how globalization (through labor migration and remittances) affect people that rely on montane agropastoralism for their livelihood.

During this project, we have so far discovered: 
  • Modest but significant increasing trends in the number of cyclones bringing atmospheric water vapor into Central Asia [1];
  • Despite strong teleconnections between winter ENSO and precipitation in both spring and summer in the Tien Shan and Pamir mountain systems [2], the influence of the teleconnection on mountain pasture growth and productivity is overshadowed by local influences on vegetation dynamics [3];
  • Changing snow seasonality in Kyrgyzstan, particularly, earlier snow melt and decreasing snow cover duration in eastern Kyrgyzstan, and earlier arrival of snow and increasing of snow cover duration in western Kyrgyzstan [4];
  • Snow seasonality strongly influences subsequent land surface phenology in highland pastures, and terrain features—especially slope—interacts with snow seasonality to affect land surface phenology [5]; and
  • Remittances arising from labor migrants affect rural households by primarily by changing consumption of food and medical treatments, but other categories of consumption appear unaffected [6].

[1] Groisman P, O Bulygina, G Henebry, N Speranskaya, A Shiklomanov, Y Chen, N Tchebakova, E Parfenova, N Tilinina, O Zolina, A Dufour, J Chen, R John, P Fan, C Mátyás, I Yesserkepova, I Kaipov. 2018. Dry land belt of Northern Eurasia: Contemporary environmental changes and their consequences. Environmental Research Letters 13:115008.

[2] de Beurs KM, GM Henebry, B Owsley, I Sokolik. 2018. Large scale climate oscillation impacts on temperature, precipitation, and land surface phenology in Central Asia. Environmental Research Letters 13:065018.

[3] Tomaszewska MA, GM Henebry. 2020. How much variation in land surface phenology can climate oscillations explain at the scale of mountain pastures in Kyrgyzstan? International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation accepted and in production.

[4] Tomaszewska MA, GM Henebry. 2018. Changing snow seasonality in the highlands of Kyrgyzstan. Environmental Research Letters 13:065006.

[5] Tomaszewska MA, LH Nguyen, GM Henebry. In review following revision. Land surface phenology in the highland pastures of montane Central Asia: Interactions with snow cover seasonality and terrain characteristics. Remote Sensing of Environment.

[6] Wang D, A Hagedorn, G Chi. 2019. Remittances and household spending strategies: evidence from the Life in Kyrgyzstan Study, 2011–2013. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.