Central Asia Research and Adaptation Water Network: CARAWAN

CARAWAN at the Bolshoe Almatinskoe Lake, Kazakhstan

CARAWAN was established in 2019 following the award of a networking grant by the UK Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to the University of Reading (UK) and Kazakhstan Institute of Geography and Water Safety.

CARAWAN is moving towards

Characterising and predicting water availability, quality and hazards in the glacier-fed catchments of Central Asia.

Who is in the CARAWAN?

  • University of Reading, UK – network coordinator
  • Kazakhstan Institute of Geography and Water Safety
  • Central-Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences, Kyrgyzstan
  • The Tien Shan High-Mountain Research Centre, Institute of Water Problems, Kyrgyzstan
  • Institute of Water Problems, Hydropower and Environment, Tajikistan
  • National Glaciological Centre, Tajikistan
  • Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Uzbekistan
  • National University of Uzbekistan
  • Kabul University, Afghanistan

CARAWAN is an international research network which focuses on the assessment and modelling of impacts of climate change on glaciers, water availability, and water quality. Central Asia is a water-deficient region where arid plains receive most of their water from the snow and glacier melt in the mountains. The mountain cryosphere delivers many important ecosystem services including (i) provision of water for municipal and industrial use and, importantly, irrigation without which agricultural production will be largely impossible; and (ii) dilution and removal of water pollutants by the high flow associated with snow and glacier melt. CARAWAN aims to develop a better understanding of the relative contributions of different water sources to total runoff and characterise water quality in the glacier-fed catchments under different flow conditions. To achieve this aim, regular water quality monitoring and collection of water samples for isotopic analysis was established in 2019 in several catchments including the Ulken and Kishi Almaty in Kazakhstan, Ala-Archa and Chon Kyzyl-Su in Kyrgyzstan, Chirchik in Uzbekistan, and Varzob-Kofarnihon in Tajikistan.  

Water sampling at the Tuyuksu glacier, Kazakhstan

Between 2019 and 2021, samples for water quality analysis were collected every two weeks from the headwaters through the middle to lower reaches of the rivers which enabled us to account of contribution of different land cover and land use types to water quality. Ground water was sampled too. To characterise water provenance and quantify contributions of sources to runoff using analysis of stable isotopes (oxygen; hydrogen), stream water was sampled every two weeks along the rivers’ profiles. Samples were collected at sources to characterise isotopic signatures of end members, e.g. snow, glacier ice, rock glaciers, permafrost, ground water, and precipitation. In addition, twice-daily water sampling was conducted at the selected locations on the Ulken Almaty, Chon Kyzyl-Su and Chirchik rivers.

The CARAWAN study catchments

CARAWAN collected about 4000 samples which are currently being analysed at the University of Reading for concentrations of stable isotopes and established an extensive database of water quality characteristics. These data are now being used by the project ‘Solutions to Secure Clean Water in the Glacier‐fed Catchments of Central Asia – What Happens After the Ice?’ (SCWAI) in which members of CARAWAN participate.

Water samples were collected along the whole river courses and sampling points represented different land cover and land use types

CARAWAN has significantly contributed to the development of research links between the UK and the Central Asian countries. It has enabled capacity building in Central Asia through the provision of training in hydrological modelling, water quality analysis and modelling, and isotopic analysis. Facilities for water quality analysis were improved and a new water quality laboratory was established in the Central-Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences.

We are proud to say that despite a very difficult 2020, all project partners completed field data collection in 2020 according to the original plan. One may say that while COVID is raging, CARAWAN is moving!