Permafrost warming in the Tien Shan Mountains, Central Asia

TitlePermafrost warming in the Tien Shan Mountains, Central Asia
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsMarchenko, SS, Gorbunov, AP, Romanovsky, VE
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Keywordsactive layer, alpine permafrost, climate warming, modeling

The general features of alpine permafrost such as spatial distribution, temperatures, ice content, permafrost and active-layer thickness within the Tien Shan Mountains, Central Asia are described. The modern thermal state of permafrost reflects climatic processes during the twentieth century when the average rise in mean annual air temperature was 0.006-0.032 [degree sign]C/yr for the different parts of the Tien Shan. Geothermal observations during the last 30 yr indicate an increase in permafrost temperatures from 0.3 [degree sign]C up to 0.6 [degree sign]C. At the same time, the average active-layer thickness increased by 23% in comparison to the early 1970s. The long-term records of air temperature and snow cover from the Tien Shan’s high-mountain weather stations allow reconstruction of the thermal state of permafrost dynamics during the last century. The modeling estimation shows that the altitudinal lower boundary of permafrost distribution has shifted by about 150-200 m upward during the twentieth century. During the same period, the area of permafrost distribution within two river basins in the Northern Tien Shan decreased approximately by 18%. Both geothermal observations and modeling indicate more favorable conditions for permafrost occurrences and preservation in the coarse blocky material, where the ice-rich permafrost could still be stable even when the mean annual air temperatures exceeds 0 [degree sign]C.