Local perceptions of glacial retreat and livelihood impacts in the At-Bashy Range of Kyrgyzstan

Ann Piersall, Sarah J. Halvorson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Glaciers are critical water reservoirs in Central Asia, and their retreat has been the subject of scientific inquiry and regional water policy discourse in recent years. In the case of Kyrgyzstan, the total glaciated area has decreased approximately 25–35 % over the past 100 years—a statistic that has raised serious national security and economic development concerns. Scant research has addressed the topic of deglaciation from the perspective of local populations living in close proximity to glaciers. This paper reports on an effort to document local perceptions of, and relationships to, glaciers in the unique physical and socio-cultural context of the At-Bashy Range of Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan Mountains. The analysis draws upon data collected over an 11 month period through interviews with Kyrgyz herders, focus group interviews with diverse community members, and extensive field observations and interactions in high-elevation pastures and sub-basins. The analysis suggests that interview participants are unanimous in recognizing the economic, cultural, and symbolic roles of glaciers and mountain environments in sustaining semi-nomadic, livestock-based livelihood systems. Nevertheless, wide ranging and often contradictory opinions emerged about glacial retreat-related vulnerabilities and impacts. Further, extant and pressing political, economic and institutional challenges influence and mediate the extent to which glacial retreat is perceived and assessed as a local priority.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)693-703
Number of pages11
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 16 2014


  • Central Asia
  • Climate change
  • Environmental change
  • Glacial retreat
  • Livelihood
  • Local perceptions


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