Previous investigation of glacial landscapes in the Altai Mountains

The natural instrumental glaciological and climatological study of the Altay Mountains has more then 100-years history. These studies were related, first of all, with researches of modern glaciation and his orographical and climatological factors.

About glaciers in the mountains of South Siberia was known from the first half of the 19th century. First  and detailed description of the glacier position in the upstream of Katun River was made in 1835 by Fridrich Vilgelm Gebler (Gebler, 1835). However, actual start of systematic study of the glaciation in Russian and Mongolian Altay related with Vasiliy Sapozhnikov, Boris and Mikhail Tronov. The first from them (Sapozhnikov, 1901, 1911,1949) was made detail description of the main centers of glaciation and fixed position of the most large glaciers tongues from 1895 to 1911. These descriptions have unique support – huge photo archive (more then 6000 images). These photos it is possible successfully to use for revealing of changes of environment for the past century (Figure 1).

In the time of the Second International Polar Year was made topographical field-work survey (1:5000 scale) of the Gebler Glacier (Tiumentsev, 1936, Miagkov, 1636) and hydrometeorological observations was started at the highmountain stations (Akkem and Katun). Tronov brothers expeditions were began in 1912, and already in 1925 Boris Tronov was published first catalogue of Altay glaciers (Tronov, 1924, 1925). In the catalogue were systematized all available data: — 408 glaciers with general area 590 km2 (from them 249 glaciers with area 300 km2 – located in Russian Altay). Later, Mikhail Tronov in the well-known monographs (Tronov, 1948, 1949, 1954) (where is already presented 754 glaciers with area 600 km2) made summation of the first stage of glaciological investigations in the Altay — this was a period of geographical opening of Altay glaciation, descriptions and mapping. At this stage (1895-1956) main attention was directed for researches of the spatial analyze of the glaciation – detection of relationships between territorial location of glaciers and climatic and orographical conditions. In outline, was determined that membership of the basic area glaciers to the main orographical centers of Altay and comparatively weak development of glaciation in the internal regions is conditioned by increase of climate continentality from the west to the east — first of all, reduction of the precipitation and increasing of the annual air temperatures, that is in turn explained existing conditions of the atmospheric circulation in the region with stable west transfer of the air masses. The height of the snow line and other glacioclimatologic factors related with this main regularity. This concept (Tronov, 1948, 1954, 1972) became the starting point for beginning of second stage of glaciological investigations in 1956. The main direction of second period was investigations for regime, fluctuation and  dynamic of glaciers in the Aktru (1957-2004), Mulita (1968-1975) and Akkem (1968-1974) highmountain stations. Data of observation gave useful and interesting results: zones with high and low background snowy were revealed;  main regularities were determined in distribution of snow accumulation and melting on the glaciers with different morphological types.

Figure 1. The view of upper part Aktru valley showing changes in the forest cover and position of glacier terminus in 1911 (photo taken by Vasiliy Sapozhnikov) and 2017

The most important stage of this period is creation of the Catalogue of glaciers for all mountain area), that became a result of all available knowledge about size and regime of glaciation. However all these regularities required wider generalization and check in insufficiently studied areas.

During creation of Atlas of snow-ice resources of the world (1997) became possible will come nearer to concept of internal and external interrelations with an environment not only separate glaciers, but global glacial system (Krenke, 1982; Atlas…, 1997).

The constructed maps of regime’s fields of the glaciers, heights of snow line, summer temperature of air, background precipitation, and also long-scale maps of fields of accumulation, melting, balance of masses, a drain, etc. in many respects have specified existing knowledge of the nature of interaction of factors of glaciation and have allowed to determine the basic ways of movement of damp air masses which «feed» the Altay glaciers. Besides these researches have allowed to determine «the place» of Altay region in the common glaciosphere of the Earth. The period from 1980 till now is characterized by the most qualitative and versatile data on character of  glaciation of Altai. Many researches after creation of the “Atlas” have not stopped, and have even more extended. The basic stimulus for activization of glaciological researches in Altai is an inclusion of several glaciers in a complex of observation for program WGMS under aegis of UNESCO. The data of observations for mass balance and morphological characteristics of basic glaciers are especially valuable. These data are expedient for using for retrospective and prognoses of dynamic status of glaciation, which is in the center of Eurasia. Materials of annual researches are on a regular basis represented to Institute of Geography Russian’s Academy of Sciences and are periodically published in “Glacier mass balance bulletin” and “Fluctuations of glaciers”. As a whole in Altai in different years during the period from 1835 — 2014 the data for 120 glaciers located in different areas have been received.