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Prepare for climate change and apply regional drought information in the Pamirs by linking climate science with human ecological calendars




The goal of the proposed work is to increase understanding and preparation for drought and climate change in the Pamirs, by using drought as a focal point for linking local human ecological calendars to large-scale climate variability and change. 

Motivation and opportunity

The investigator team has conducted considerable research on regional drought variability and predictability for Central-Southwest Asia (references 1-15), which includes the Pamirs. The combination of this regional climate information, the local ecological indicator work of Dr. Kassam’s team, and the availability of historical station records and satellite data for Tajikistan provide an exciting opportunity to link regional climate information to local communities through the use of ecological calendars. As drought is a critical aspect of climate fluctuations in the region and will likely be part of climate change, we expect this to be a useful context to develop an ecological calendar that accounts for changes and variability.  Moreover, the Pamirs are a region where validation of climate models is lacking and precipitation projections are uncertain (16), so regional climate analysis is also needed to develop a better understanding of climate change in the Pamirs.

Objectives and Activities

1. Determine links between regional and local scales

We will determine the relevance of regional-scale drought patterns and predictability identified in previous (1-15) and ongoing research to specific locations that are relevant to the ecological calendar work, using already-obtained station data and high-resolution satellite data.  We will use correlation and pattern-based analysis to identify links between the previously identified regional variability and the local data.  Previous work suggests considerable information is available even at local scales.

2. Develop locally-relevant climate information

We will investigate what climate information identified in the first task is most relevant to local agricultural and societal impacts and how this information can be framed as an ecological calendar. Recent hot and dry years will also be used to explore the local ecological effects of variability and provide context for possible future changes. Based on the results, seasonal updates and a climate change assessment will be made in terms of an ecological calendar for agricultural activity. This task will be in close collaboration with Dr. Kassam’s fieldwork, to use local knowledge to assess the relevance of different types of climate information (e.g., useful metrics, timescale, and seasonality for drought information).

3. Validate current climate models, assess downscaling

We will evaluate how well current climate models are able to reproduce the important features of, and controls on, the regional climate, as determined in the first two tasks. This will be done by examining the regional seasonal cycle and variability in the 20th century runs of the CMIP5 models and comparing to observations (2,6,8-15). This is vital information for making local projections and a critical need for the region. Additionally, analysis of the extent to which models can capture aspects of large-scale variability can be used as a basis for statistical downscaling (15) of both seasonal forecasts and climate change projections.

 4. Assess effect of warming on water resources and agriculture

As snowmelt plays a crucial role in the hydrology of the region (6), changes in the timing of snowmelt or in the ratio of snow to rain in the winter will have a large impact on water availability and related agricultural productivity in the warm season. We will analyze historical data to determine observed relationships between temperature and warm seasons flows and vegetation, considering snowmelt change, evaporation, water demand, and temperature stress. We will use both gridded and station temperature data, river flow gauge data (6), and satellite-based estimates of vegetative vigor and snow water equivalent. 

Category of the action


Who will take these actions?

Investigator Team

Dr. Mathew Barlow is an Associate Professor of Climate Science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, has been the author and co-author of numerous studies of the region, and was a contributing author of the IPCC Working Group I chapter on "Climate Phenomena and their Relevance for Future Regional Climate Change" for the section on West Asia.

Dr. Andrew Hoell is an Assistant Research Scientist at the University of California – Santa Barbara, has been the author and co-author of numerous studies of the region, and has contributed to FEWS seasonal assessments for the Central Asia region, which includes Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Dr. Bradfield Lyon is a Research Scientist the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) at Columbia University, has been a co-author on several studies of the region, and is an expert in both climate science and climate communications.

What are other key benefits?

The proposed work will help to develop a regional framework for cooperative work that will also be useful for managing short-term climate extremes, and for collaborating with other decision makers in the region.

Much of the methodology and results will be relevant to other areas within the region.  This includes validation of satellite data and downscaling of regional variability.  Additionally, the validation of climate models in the region is of critical importance for evaluating local and regional climate change projections.

What are the proposal’s costs?

Proposal Budget

With modest amounts of funding (ca. 15K) to support a semester’s work by a graduate student, some of tasks 1 and 2 could be carried out, to provide a preliminary assessment of how much the previously-established regional variability and predictability applies at the local level in the Pamirs.

As the proposed work outlines a broad scope, to fully fund all four tasks would require 200K/yr for four to five years, although selected parts of the work could be undertaken for less.

Potential Negative Side Effects

The proposed work involves the communication of collaboratively-developed climate information.  The limits of this information must be clearly communicated so that decisions are not made based on a misunderstanding of the information or of its range of uncertainty, potentially involving unnecessary economic losses and/or erosion of trust.

Time line

The primary activities of the proposal focus on the short term (5 years), when the relevance of regional climate information to the local scale will be determined, the expression of this information in human ecological calendars will be explored, and preliminary efforts at communicating climate information through ecological calendars will be made.  After two years, we expect to have an assessment of the relevance of regional climate information to local agricultural activity and to begin providing information.  At the end of this period, we expect a regional framework for collaboration and communication will be established, and this framework will be in active use for communicating locally-relevant climate information through ecological calendars.

The medium-term (5 -15 years) follow-on to this work would lie in maintaining and extending this work, based on those results.  That is, using the results of the first five years to guide research in regional climate change and communication strategies.

Additionally, in the medium-term timeframe, the regional framework for collaboration and communication would ideally be used to involve other decision makers in the area and surrounding regions, to develop comprehensive region-wide resilience and mitigation strategies.  Given the transboundary nature of water resources in the region, international cooperation will be critical in the regional response to climate change.

The long term work would lie in implementing and refining those strategies.

Related proposals


1.  Agrawala, S., M. Barlow, H. Cullen, & B. Lyon, 2001: The Drought and Humanitarian Crisis in Central and Southwest Asia: A Climate Perspective. IRI Special Report, 01-11, 24 pp.

2.  Barlow, M., H. Cullen, & B. Lyon, 2002: Drought in Central and Southwest Asia: La Niña, the Warm Pool, and Indian Ocean Precipitation. J. Climate, 15, 697–700.

3.  Barlow, M., M. Wheeler, B. Lyon, & H. Cullen, 2005: Modulation of Daily Precipitation over Southwest Asia by the Madden–Julian Oscillation. Mon. Wea. Rev., 133, 3579–3594.

4.  Barlow, H. Cullen, B. Lyon, & O. Wilhelmi, 2006: Drought disaster in Asia. In "Natural Disaster Hotspots Case Studies," World Bank Disaster Risk Management Series No. 6. Edited by J. Arnold et al.  184pp.

5.  Barlow, M., A. Hoell, & F. Colby, 2007: Examining the wintertime response to tropical convection over the Indian Ocean by modifying convective heating in a full atmospheric model. Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L19702.

6.  Barlow, M. A., & M. K. Tippett, 2008: Variability and Predictability of Central Asia River Flows: Antecedent Winter Precipitation and Large--Scale Teleconnections. J. Hydrometeor, 9, 1334–1349.

7.  Barlow, M., 2011: Africa and West Asia. In Intraseasonal Variability in the Coupled Tropical Ocean-Atmosphere System, 2nd Edition.  W. Lau and D. Waliser, Eds., Praxis, 477–493.

8.  Barlow, M., B. Zaitchik, S. Paz, E. Black, J. Evans, & A. Hoell, 2015: A review of drought in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.  In review at J. Climate (minor revisions).

9.  Hoell, A., M. Barlow, & R. Saini, 2012: The Leading Pattern of Intraseasonal and Interannual Indian Ocean Precipitation Variability and Its Relationship with Asian Circulation during the Boreal Cold Season. J. Climate, 25, 7509–7526.

10.  Hoell, A., M. Barlow, & R. Saini, 2013a: Intraseasonal and Seasonal-to-Interannual Indian Ocean Convection and Hemispheric Teleconnections. J. Climate, 26, 8850–8867.

11.  Hoell, A., & C. Funk, 2013:  The ENSO-Related West Pacific Sea Surface Temperature Gradient. J. Climate, 26, 9545–9562.

12.  Hoell, A., C. Funk, & M. Barlow, 2014: The regional forcing of Northern hemisphere drought during recent warm tropical west Pacific Ocean La Niña events. Climate Dynamics, 42, 3289-3311.

13.  Hoell, A., C. Funk & M. Barlow, 2014: La Nina Diversity and Northwest Indian Ocean Rim Teleconnections. Clim. Dyn., 43, 2707-2724.

14.  Hoell, A., C. Funk, & M. Barlow, 2015: The Forcing Southwest Asia Teleconnections by Low Frequency Indo-Pacific Sea Surface Temperature Variability During Boreal Winter.  J. Climate, 28, 1511–1526.

15. Tippett, M. K. , Barlow, M. & B. Lyon, B, 2003. : Statistical correction of Central Southwest Asia winter precipitation simulations. Int. J. Climotol., 23,1421-1433.

16.  Christensen, J., & coauthors 2013: Climate Phenomena and their Relevance for Future Regional Climate Change. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC.  Cambridge U. Press.