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High-mountain lakes


High mountain large lakes as a key components of local environment, study of natural and man-made impacts

Tech Area / Field

  • ENV-MRA/Modelling and Risk Assessment/Environment
  • OBS-NAT/Natural Resources and Earth Sciences/Other Basic Sciences

6 Project underway

Registration date

Senior Project Manager
Endrullat B

Leading Institute
Ilia State University, Georgia, Tbilisi

Supporting institutes

  • Institute of Geology of NAS of Kyrgyzstan Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek\nInstitute of Geological Sciences, Armenia, Yerevan


  • Nature Research Centre, Vilnius Lithuania, Lithuania, Vilnius\nBrunel University, UK, Middlesex, Uxbridge

Project summary

High mountain regions are known by their extremely sensitive environmental conditions. People live in fragile balance with nature, such as extremely high and low temperatures, scarce natural resources, high risk of natural hazards, etc. Quite often large lakes in high mountainous areas play key role as a main source of resources for local population and forming main shape of environment. Studying past, present and future changes in high mountain lakes, their causes and consequences is necessary for sustainable development of these sensitive areas. In the framework of the Project, it is planned to conduct a comparative study of the natural and anthropogenic impacts on the environments of high-mountain lakes in Southern Caucasus to develop models of future lake evolution. Lakes selected for the study include: Lake Sevan (Armenia), Lake Paravani and Saghamo (Georgia), and Issyk-Kul (Kyrgyzstan). Changes of geological and climate conditions have repeatedly caused sizable fluctuations of water level of the studied lakes and brought about changes in their environments. Bottom sediments of the lakes record the history of all natural changes during the Holocene time. The proposed studies will enable reconstruction of this history and a forecast of lake development in future with allowance for anthropogenic impacts.
The current status in the area of study. All lakes are situated in high-mountain settings, having similar features of geo-morphology, climate and biology. The conducted investigations indicate that all lakes are exposed to intense impacts of active geological processes. Drastic climate changes are attested by a series of palynological data, palaeontological studies, as well as by the petroglyphic pictures discovered in the basins of Lakes Sevan, Issyk-Kul, Paravani and Saghamo, depicting animals characteristic of climatic zones different from the ones observed recently. Recently the bronze age burial mound was discovered 600m offshore within the lake Paravani, clearly indicating drastic change in water level.
During the 20th and in the 21st centuries, Lake Sevan and Issyk-Kul have been exposed to intense man-made impacts. The populations have increased drastically and active agricultural activity has been intensely developing; besides, mining industry developed in the basins of both lakes at a considerable scale. In the same time, the nature at Lake Paravani and Lake Saghamo has been preserved almost in its primeval form. This fact will enable comparison of differences in the lake environment development histories throughout the 20th century, their resilience in biopersity and as freshwater reservoirs and building a realistic scenario of their future development.
Impact of the proposed Project on the progress in the considered field. The created model of development of the studies high-mountain lakes during the Holocene and at the recent stage will enable consideration of various scenarios and formulation of a realistic scenario of future environmental development and conservation.
The new environmental standards (norms) to be developed for an environment with high-rate geochemical activity, like the recommendations to be proposed for long-term and sustainable development of nature management, would be important for conservation of the environments of the high-mountain lakes.
Expected results and their application
1. Creation of a comprehensive GIS-format database on the geology, archaeology, ecology, and natural and man-made hazards threatening the studied lakes;
2. Assessment of seismic, volcanic and landslide hazards, as well as geochemical activity in the basin and at the bottom of the studied lakes.
3. A hydrodynamic model, which illustrated the transport and mixing today and in the near future, will be built. Geochemical profiles in the water column will be carried out to determine the geochemical cycle, to identify the places of input, and also to define the possible areas of contaminant concentration. The amount of radioactive contamination will be evaluated.
4. Based on the assessment of the activity of geological medium impact on the environments and climate of the studied high-mountain lakes, models of lake development in the Holocene and at the recent stage will be elaborated and future development forecast will be made.
5. New norms for environments characterized by high geochemical activity will be developed, as well as on the planning and organization of environmental protection within the basins of studied high-mountain lakes, along with identification of anthropogenic and natural constituents;
6. Recommendations on long-term and sustainable development of nature management within the basins of studied high-mountain lakes characterized by high-rate natural and anthropogenic activity.
Meeting ISTC Goals and Objectives. Considering that the proposed Project involves experts who were earlier engaged in specific defense-related works such as preparation of large-scale maps, prospecting of so-called strategic materials, studies of construction sites for military facilities, and monitoring of nuclear tests, and recognizing that the proposed Project has only peaceful orientation, it fully complies with the goals of the ISTC. The Project will promote solution of international scientific and technological tasks – assessment of hazard and risks for areas, and environmental protection.
The Project will allow scientists and experts from the CIS to establish scientific, business and friendly contacts with their colleagues from Europe, USA and other countries.
The compliance with the ISTC goals will be achieved through the planned extensive involvement of scientists from participating organizations in the global scientific community by means of presentation of project-related information at international conferences and workshops.
Scope of Activities. The following main works will be carried out in the framework of the Project:
- Interpretation and analysis of aerial photos and satellite images to identify palaeo-seismic deformations and active faults, and natural and anthropogenic environmental changes within the basins of studied lakes;
- Field geological and geophysical studies to update and determine morpho-structural, stratigraphic data, determine absolute age of lacustrine sediments and conduct profiling of the deformed terraces;
- Field archaeo-seismological studies and archaeological excavations to determine true seismic deformations of structures in shoreline settlements of the studied lakes;
- Studies of bottom landscapes, bottom sediments, and submerged man-made structures, using Geophysical prospecting methods, such as Ground penetrating Radar (effective in fresh water) and ping equipment
- Sampling of bottom sediments, analysis of water and gas samples (chemical composition), and determination of gas emissions; I can suggest to build a raft and sample using a Livingstone corer. Either you buy or I can lend one.
- Sedimentology of the lacustrine cores: magnetic susceptibility, core photography, visual description, Loss-on-Ignition, particle size analyses.
- Palynology: pollen for past terrestrial vegetation as influenced by human activities and climate and non-pollen palynomorphs for past changes in the aquatics world (aquatic plants and some phytoplankton). Moreover in the seismites and tephras identified by sedimentology and well dated (radionuclides or radiocarbon): study of the pollen taphonomy across the seismites or tephras and study of the pollen assemblages changes before and after earthquakes. Bio-plankton studies.
- Establishment of GIS format databases, analysis and processing of data using ArcGis 9, ArcScene, and Global Mapper software packages;
- Development of mathematical and nature models of development of the high-mountain lakes;
- Development of recommendations on protection of high-mountain lake eco-systems;
- Presentation of the results of the studies to international scientific community.
Roles of Foreign collaborators. Foreign collaborators have contributed actively in the preparation of this Project and will continue to cooperate with Project participants in the following:
- Exchange of information in the course of project implementation, commenting on submitted reports;
- Provision of materials and consultations in selection and use of equipment in the course of the project;
- Assistance in mastering new research methods and technologies;
- Exchange of data, advising in database development issues and mapping of the produced results;
- Participation in training courses for young researchers, in workshops and meetings;
- Creation of capabilities to enable Western universities and laboratories to host Project participants.
Technical Approaches and Methodology. Ancient literature sources describing natural, slow-rate anthropogenic and catastrophic changes in lake hollows, will be studied. Search for concealed (blind) active faults, faults covered by archaeological settlement sediments, and identification of the inner structure of earthquake-generating faults will be conducted by means of GPR (Ground Penetration Radar).
To provide for correct calculation of the compression rates and determine the geometry of active faults, the profiling of deformed terraces will be performed using GPS monitoring. Methods of absolute age estimation and trenching surveys carried out at surface deformation sites will enable estimation of earthquake ages and their recurrence intervals.
To determine true seismic deformations in riparian areas of the studied lakes, field archeological surveys and archeological excavations will be carried out. Data on deep drilling and borehole cores, along with pollen analysis of the core, will be applied to study bottom of the lakes. Surveys of bottom sediments, immersed man-made structures, and fauna of the lakes will be aided by use of ping equipment, sonar profiling, available bathymetry data and sampling. Samples of lake bottom sediments will be analyzed by means of atomic absorption spectrometry, polarography, colorimetric, weighting and volumetric methods of chemical analysis. Gas emissions from water body surfaces will be measured using a chamber of special design. Livingston-type drilling equipment will be used to drill the bottom and sample the core.
Physical-chemical parameters of waters and dissolved oxygen contents in water will be determined in situ. To assess climate changes in the Holocene, palynological study techniques will be applied, while classical methods of microorganism cultivation, along with advanced molecular biology techniques, will be used to study bacterial plankton. Diatom analysis will be carried out by classical methods for detecting environmental conditions as appropriate for the detected species of diatoms.
The established GIS database will be summarized and analyzed by means of software packages ArcGIS 9, ArcScene, and Global Mapper. It will serve the basis to develop lake ecology models, new environmental norms for environments with high-rate natural geochemical activity, recommendations on the planning and organization of environmental protection with identified anthropogenic and natural constituents, long-term sustainable nature management in the basins of the studied lakes, characterized by high rates of natural and anthropogenic activities.