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Examination and monitoring of Enilchek Glacier and Lake Merzbacher


Title Examination and monitoring of Enilchek Glacier and Lake Merzbacher
Category of tools Monitoring system
Remote monitoring
Usability of practice for adaptation to climate change High
Implemented by Central Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences (CAIAG) and German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ)
Used by

Country: Kyrgyzstan

Province: Issyk Kul Region

District: Ak-Suu District

Local specifics

Enilchek is a dendrite-type glacier originating around Khan Tengri Peak (6,995 m) with its tongue (43.2 km long and on average 2.2 km wide) descending to 2,800 m ASL.  Northern Enilchek Glacier is 38.2 km long (181.2 and Southern Enilchek Glacier is 58.9 km long (567.2

Lake Merzbacher:

  • 3,304 m ASL;
  • volume – 0.12-0.25 km3;
  • deepest point -- 75 m;
  • average depth -- 35 m;
  • water-surface lake area – 4.5

Lake Merzbacher formed at the end of the Small Ice Age (19th century).  It has two pools called Upper and Lower Lakes divided by 400 m of elevation and 3-4 km long ice river with the same name.  In its southern part, the lower and larger part of the lake is limited by the glacial “dam”.  Every year (twice a year, in summer and winter periods) the lake’s lower part breaks into the Enilchek River Valley completely losing its water (discharge speed may exceed 1,000 m3/s) and dumping it in the course of 2-7 days via subglacial canals.  At the time of lake outburst, it accumulates 0.06-0.07 km3 of water.  Based on research data, lake bursts occur when water temperature in the lake rises to 10-15° Celsius.

Practice usage period

Start date: 01.01.2012

End date: 31.12.2013

Problem solved through this practice

Lake Merzbacher’s outbursts often destroy bridges, roads and other engineering facilities/installations located along the rivers originating in the lake down to the Ak-Suu River on the territory of China.

Tools used in the practice
  1. Upgrading control and management systems;
  2. Remote monitoring
Description of the practice and its results

The Sary-Dzhaz River Basin which includes Enilchek -- the largest glacier in the country – is one of main sources of fresh water and a potential source for hydropower in the region.

The region is of special significance as to investigating the probability of both natural and natural-technogenic disasters.  It also plays an important role in rational water supply in Kyrgyzstan and the adjacent territory of Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, as well as planning large-scale infrastructure projects (ex.: cascading hydro-power stations).

Based on the observation data of the last decade, climate change is the reason behind the regressing Tien Shan glaciation.  It leads to reduction of shared water resources, activation of mud flows, floods and glacial lake outbursts.  The largest known glacier-dammed Lake Merzbacher is characterized by one of the most severe and regular annual disruptive glacial floods.  It was necessary to examine hydrological, climatic and glacial changes associated with altering region- and global-scale atmospheric circulations, i.e. their effect on the central section of Enilchek Glacier (confluence point of its two branches -- Northern and Southern Enilchek).


Enilchek Glacier research was carried out on the premises of Merzbacher Station established jointly by CAIAG and GFZ in August 2009.  Subsequently, it is planned to expand the set of measuring tools used for studying Enilchek Glacier.

Project scope included field research in the Sary-Dzhaz and Enilchek River Basins, collection of measurements from automatic meteo- and seismic stations, hydro-posts on Northern Enilchek Bridge and Southern Enilchek ablation stake.

Automatic meteorological stations provide data on temperature, precipitation, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind and total solar radiation necessary to reveal the impact of altering climatic parameters on glacier balance, discharge of the Enilchek River and outburst discharge regime of Lake Merzbacher.  Project efforts allowed better identification of summer glacial discharge for separate glaciers (Northern and Southern Enilchek) via automatic hydro-posts.

Water level and ice surface fluctuations in Lake Merz-bacher were subject to monitoring and registration via water pressure sensors developed GFZ, OpenGPS Sensor (laser scanning technology) and visual observations (high-resolution web-cameras).


The CAIAG monitoring network was established under research grants and third-party project investments.  The installed GPRS-modems allowed to automatically transfer data to CAIAG server on a daily basis.

The network of interlinked stations was created already under the GCO-CA Project, including MRZ1 and MRZ2 stations close to Lake Merzbacher on northern and southern walls of Northern and Southern Enilchek Glaciers.  The third ICED Station – to measure glacier speed and monitor the dam -- was installed on the ice dam.

The project allowed the e-mapping of the Sary-Dzhaz River Basin, making and assessing Enilchek Glacier geophysical and capacity measurements, as well as identifying lineaments, breaks and crossbars near outburst-prone Lake Merzbacher.  Analyses of satellite imagery allowed identifying rock slides in the form of paleoseismic dislocations within the 50 km radius of the merger point of the Sary-Dzhaz River and the Enilchek River (its left-bank tributary).  The deciphered paleoseismic dislocations prove the region’s high seismicity.  In the future, project results can be used for designing and building the Sary-Dzhaz Hydropower Station.

Financial and economic:

The received results manifest an important contribution to planning and implementing secure economic development efforts in the Sary-Dzhaz River Basin, in particular, designing, building and operating hydropower plants in the region.


Project outcomes serve basis for assessing and forecasting climatic and ecological variability of water resources.


  • reduced probability of sudden destruction of engineering facilities;
  • increased security for the residents of the Sary-Dzhaz River Basin.
Lessons learnt and recommendations made

Lessons learnt:

Research and monitoring of Southern and Northern Enil-chek Glaciers and Lake Merzbacher are of paramount importance due to the prospects of developing water, hydropower and mineral resources in the target basin.


Long-term monitoring of glaciers and lakes is necessary to prevent the devastating outbursts of high-altitude lakes.

Source of practice

Foreign tools (transfer of foreign experience)

Brief information on the project

Project title: Examination of Enilchek Glacier to determine its balance, morphological and dynamic characteristics, and climatic and hydrological conditions.

Project duration: 2012-2013.

Project goal and objectives: measure a series of parameters necessary for explanation, simulation and forecasting of glacial, water, and atmospheric sub-systems in terms of potential risks of geo-catastrophes and water resources changes.

Project long-term goals: forecast climate and water resources change trends in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia.

Scale of implementation and project beneficiaries: populations of the Sary-Dzhaz River Basin of the Kyrgyz Republic and the river’s lower reaches on the territory of the People's Republic of China.

Project implementer: Central Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences (CAIAG).

Funding source Government of the Kyrgyz Republic via CAIAG and GFZ
Information sources
  1. Central Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences, 2012-2013 Research Program;
  2. Magnetometer Survey of Southern and Northern Enilchek (Inylchek) Glaciers in the area of Lake Merzbacher;
  3. Presentation about the work of the institute;
  4. On the geo-risk monitoring system in Central Asia;
Form submission date 18.05.2018
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