In addition to our fundamental research, our mission is to share and exchange knowledge across major mountain regions of the world and establish related research collaborations.

Our objective is to ensure sustainable development in mountain regions by strengthening and improving capacities on research in complex mountain environments. 

Capacity Building and Twinning for Climate Observing Systems (CATCOS)


It is widely recognized that global climate change poses a major threat to sustainable development objectives. In order to build up climate resilience, decisions concerning mitigation and adaptation strategies on climate change must be taken based on high-quality data measured in a sustainable manner. CATCOS allows filling the data gaps in regions where climate-relevant information has been missing or measurements have been ceased. In doing so, the project provides a significant contribution to the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS).


The role of the University of Fribourg in CATCOS:

Central Asia is dependent on glaciers as an essential source of water. In the past, many glaciers have been monitored and a valuable data basis was established. Past mass balance series on Uzbek and Kyrgyz glaciers span more than 20 years but are interrupted in the mid-1990s.

As part of the CATCOS project, systematic glacier observations are re-established at four Kyrgyz glaciers and one Uzbek glacier thanks to a close collaboration between the University of Fribourg and the Central-Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences (CAIAG). All collected data is submitted to the designated International Data Centre, the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) in Switzerland and freely accessible.

The University of Fribourg instructs local scientists in field operating procedures and teaches them how to apply the measuring equipment considering the specifics of each glacier, including serverel summer schools on “Mass Balance Measurements and Analysis”.  Thereby, Kyrgyz participants receive advanced training in both field and office work. 


Duration: phase 1: 2011-2014; phase 2: 2014-2016

Funded by: CATCOS is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC and is coordinated by the Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology MeteoSwiss. The project is realized through a close collaboration between Swiss and international partners from Africa, South East Asia, South America and Central Asia. As a global partner, the World Meteorological Organization WMO is instrumental in embedding the activities in the respective regions.

Project lead/principal investigator at the University of Fribourg: M. Hoelzle, Geography Unit, University of Fribourg 

Swiss Partner Institutions: MeteoSwiss, University of Zurich, PSI, EMPA

National and International Collaborators - Terrestrial Domain, Kyrgyzstan/Uzbekistan/Germany: Martin Hoelzle (Prof, UniFR), Bolot Moldobekov (Director, CAIAG), Ryskul Usubaliev (Senior Scientist, CAIAG), Maxim Petrov (Senior Scientist, ), Tomas Saks (Senior Scientist, UniFR), Matthias Huss (Senior Scientist, UniFR, ETHZ), Horst Machguth (Senior Scientist, UniFR, UZH), Nadine Salzmann (Senior Scientist, UnifFR), Abror, Gafurov (Senior Scientist, GFZ), Sergiy Vorogushin (Senior Scientist, GFZ), Aleksandr Merkushkin (Senior Scientist, UNDP, Uzbekistan), Wilfreid Hagg (Senior Scientist, LMU), Michael Zemp (Director, WGMS UZH), Nico Mölg (PhD, WGMS, UZH), Daniel Farinotti (Senior Scientist, WSL), Martina Barandun (PhD student, UniFR), Marlene Kronenberg (PhD student, UniFR, Meteodat), Erlan Azisov (PhD, CAIAG), Ruslan Kenzhebaev (MSc CAIAG), Alyssa Ghirlanda (MSc, UniFR), Florian Denzinger (MSc, UZH, UniFR). 

Contact at University of Fribourg: martina.barandun[at], martin.hoelzle[at]


Barandun, M., Huss, M., Sold, L., Farinotti, D., Azisov, E., Salzmann, N., Usubaliev, R., Merkushkin, A., & Hoelzle, M. (2015). Re-analysis of seasonal mass balance at Abramov glacier 1968–2014. Journal of Glaciology, 61(230), 1103-1117.

Kronenberg, M., Barandun, M., Hoelzle, M., Huss, M., Farinotti, D., Azisov, E., ... & Kääb, A. (2016). Mass-balance econstruction for Glacier No. 354, Tien Shan, from 2003 to 2014. Annals of Glaciology, 57, 71.

Kenzhebaev, R., Barandun, M., Kronenberg, M., Yaning, C., Usubaliev, R., Hoelzle, M., (in review). Mass balance observation and reconstruction for Batysh Sook Glacier, Tian Shan, from 2004 to 2015. Cold Region Science and Technology.


(1) Re-establishment of historical mass balance monitoring programmes
(2) Capacity building and twinning

Study area
: Kyrgyzstan: Glacier Abramov (Pamir-Alay), Glacier Golubin (Tien Shan), Glacier Batysh Sook (Tien Shan), Glacier No. 354 (Tien Shan); Uzbekistan: Barkrak Sredniy Glacier (Tien Shan)

Exemplary results:

Figure 1a. Historical measurement at Abramov initiated in 1967. 1b. Re-established mass balance network since 2011.

Figure 2: Measured and re-constructed mass balance for Gl. No.354 (Kronenberg et al., 2016)

Figure 3: Photo from joined field work with local partners at Abramov Glacier (Photo taken by T. Saks).

Figure 4: Photo from the summer school on mass balance measurements and analysis in 2015 on Batysh Sook Glacier (Photo taken by H.Machguth).



Cryospheric Climate Services for improved Adaptation (CICADA)


Climate change poses a major challenge for humanity and the related global implications will influence and threaten future economies and livelihood of coming generations, especially in developing countries (IPCC 2013).

The UN General Assembly agreed upon 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and related Targets, which represent an overarching framework for the implementation of the Paris Agreement at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). However, large efforts are needed to reach the SDGs and the 2°C (or 1.5°C)-atmospheric warming target within a time frame that prevents major drawbacks for humanity. Therefore, monitoring and strategies to enforce climate resilience, mitigation as well as adaptation must be based on sound baseline information, such as climate observations, and in particular, the Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) defined by the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) (GCOS 2010). As stated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), large gaps currently exist in the global climate observing system. Especially in developing and emerging countries such baseline data are missing but fundamental to plan and mitigate future developments.

One region, where climate change has major impacts, is Central Asia (SDC 2012). With the Tien Shan and Pamir, the region contains two of the largest mountain systems of the world, which serve as water towers in arid and continental region (Immerzeel et al. 2010, Kaser et al. 2010). They store enormous amounts of water in form of glacier ice and ice embedded in permafrost. These resources will play an important role for future water availability under the ongoing climate warming influencing future water resource management. Several recent studies (Hagg et al. 2006, 2007, 2013, Braun and Hagg 2009, Kaser et al. 2010, Huss et al. 2008, Huss 2011) point out clearly that a) in arid regions like Central Asia, water release by glaciers is fundamental to keep runoff sufficient during the dry summer months and b) at the end of this century the water contribution of glaciers will be drastically reduced and certain catchment will completely dry-out.  However, water resources are unevenly distributed and mainly controlled by upstream countries, - Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. At the same time, downstream Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are the main consumers of water resources (UNDP 2011). Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s this setting causes political tensions and creates a complex set of future challenges in the areas of water management, energy production, irrigation, agriculture, environment, disaster risk reduction, security and public health. Notably this also poses challenges in the field of climate services, as, on one hand, each project target country underlines the necessity in sharing the baseline data and elaboration of the complex regional climate mitigation strategies, but on the other hand, the lack of reliable data and commitment of the governments to fully integrate their observatory systems inhibits the sustainable development of the region.

To improve the complex cooperation on climate data between stakeholders in Central Asia, sound and high-quality information on the climate and hydrological system are needed in order to provide climate scenarios and services for water runoff and natural hazards (e.g. GLOFs, debris flows and landslides). This is a prerequisite to allow early planning and adaptation measures within the water resource management (WRM) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) sectors. These scenarios and services have to be based on calibrated models linked to high quality baseline data. Therefore, baseline data has to be made available, especially for the most important alpine cryospheric variables such as snow, glaciers and permafrost as they are major controlling factors of the hydrological cycle in the region.

Improving regional dialogue for the review of baseline data on hydrological systems, forecasting and knowledge sharing, as well as scientific research and enhanced education at all levels were proposed too. It was emphasized that there is a need for a better cooperation among the international data users and the scientific community in the target region. There is an urgent need to make climate information available to all stakeholders and decision-makers in order to provide better policy advice. As the prerogative for effective scientific cooperation and sustainability in advancing research on climate change impact regarding in particular glacier melt, water resources and the associated natural hazards in the region, enhanced capacity building for the local staff in research institutions has been identified as crucial. Enhanced capacity contributes importantly to the process of raising the awareness towards the impacts of climate change not only of stakeholders and decision-makers but also of the population (Nussbaumer et al. 2017). In combination with high quality baseline data, the complex cooperation around climate services between the different stakeholders will be improved and consequentially enable a fast and effective mitigation process to impacts related on water availability and disaster risk reduction to finally enhance the resilience of the most vulnerable population.

The role of the University of Fribourg in CICADA:


Duration: 2017-2021

Funded by: The project CICADA is mainly financed by the University of Fribourg with a remarkable contribution of Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC and is running under auspice of the World Glacier Monitoring Service.

Project lead/principal investigator at the University of Fribourg: M. Hoelzle, Geography Unit, University of Fribourg 

Swiss Partner Institutions:  University of Zurich

National and International Collaborators - Kyrgyzstan/Uzbekistan/Tajikistan/Kazakhstan/Germany: Martin Hoelzle (Prof, UniFR), Bolot Moldobekov (Director, CAIAG), Ryskul Usubaliev (Senior Scientist, CAIAG), Maxim Petrov (Senior Scientist, ), Tomas Saks (Senior Scientist, UniFR), Horst Machguth (Senior Scientist, UniFR, UZH), Nadine Salzmann (Senior Scientist, UnifFR), Abror, Gafurov (Senior Scientist, GFZ), Sergiy Vorogushin (Senior Scientist, GFZ), Aleksandr Merkushkin (Senior Scientist, UNDP, Uzbekistan), Michael Zemp (Director, WGMS UZH), Martina Barandun (PhD student, UniFR), Marlene Kronenberg (PhD student, UniFR), Erlan Azisov (PhD, CAIAG), Ruslan Kenzhebaev (MSc, CAIAG), Alyssa Ghirlanda (MSc, UniFR). 

Contact at University of Fribourg: martina.barandun[at], martin.hoelzle[at]



The project CICADA aims on the development of high-quality cryosphere data (Outcome 1), to increase (education) capacity, cooperation and awareness (Outcome 2), and to use high quality cryosphere data for improving WRM and DRR in pilot regions (Outcome 3) in the target countries.


Figure 1. Simplified project structure


Figure 2. Possible intervention sites.

Figure 3. Cumulative mass balance observations in Central Asia.

SMD4GC (Sustainable Mountain Development for Global Change)

Mountain regions are key contexts for sustainable global development because (1) mountains provide critical and indispensable goods and services to a significant proportion of humankind; and (2) mountains are among the most disadvantaged regions in a global perspective: they are among the regions with the highest poverty rates, and among those most vulnerable to global (climate) change and related risks.

Global changes including climate change are heavily affecting mountain regions, which exacerbates already existing challenges and increases the pressure on mountain people and resources. This enforces unsustainable land management practices and land abandonment, which in turn might i.a. imperil the provision of key mountain services. With the SMD4GC programme, support to sustainable mountain development (SMD) is provided to increase the resilience of the mountain population, which is increasingly vulnerable due to the ongoing global changes.

Overall goal and outcomes of the programme
The overall goal of SMD4GC is to essentially contribute to SMD under uncertain changes in climatic, environmental and socio-economic conditions, focusing on poverty and risk reduction. The objectives are to launch (policy) instruments for SMD at different levels by local, national and international stakeholders and decision makers, and to implement knowledge-based SMD activities. These objectives will be pursued by generating the following key outputs:

- Raised awareness on SMD issues
- Increased promotion of and support to SMD activities
- Enhanced capacities for SMD knowledge generation
- Improved access to SMD knowledge and know-how
- Increased stakeholder capacity
- Application of knowledge and know-how in pilot studies

Funded by: SMD4GC is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC under their Global Programme Climate Change (GPCC), Mountain Desk

Project lead/principal investigator at the University of Zurich/Fribourg: N. Salzmann, Geography Unit, University of Fribourg (

Swiss Partner Institutions:

- University of Zurich, incl. WGMS (World Glacier Monitoring Service)

- CDE (Centre for Development and Environment, University of Berne)

- FDDM (Fondation pour le développement durable des régions de montagne) 

International Partner Institutions:

ARCOS (Albertine Rift Conservation Society), Uganda

CONDESAN (Consortium for the Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion), Peru

ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development), Nepal

UCA (University of Central Asia), Kirgistan 

Contact at University of Fribourg: nadine.salzmann[at], samuel.nussbaumer[at]


2013-2017 (Phase 1)

IHCAP (Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme)

Unit of Geography - Chemin du Musée 4 - 1700 Fribourg - Tel +41 26 / 300 90 10 - Fax +41 26 / 300 9746
nicole.equey [at] - Swiss University