Cryosphere Research Capacity Building in Afghanistan

28 Mar 2017

A training course titled “Application of Remote Sensing (RS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for the Mapping and Monitoring of Glaciers” was organized in Afghanistan from 14-18 January 2017. The training was organized in response to the need expressed in a number of consultations for capacity building related to the monitoring of glaciers and glacial lakes in Afghanistan. The event was held at the Water Resource Division of the Ministry of Energy and Water (MEW) in Kabul, Afghanistan.  

The monitoring of Afghanistan’s glaciers and glacial lakes has been limited. The few studies that have been conducted in the past have all included mapping from topographic maps. Compared to satellite images, the glacier outlines derived from the topographic maps are difficult to analyze. Capacity building activities such as January’s training course helps the attending professionals develop and conduct research in-house for the monitoring and assessment of glaciers in Afghanistan. Such programmes also contribute to better collaboration with ICIMOD in the future.

The training was conducted with the objective of building and enhancing capacity related to RS and GIS for the mapping and monitoring of glaciers and glacial lakes. It was aimed at Afghan professionals working in water resources research and management. The training familiarized the professionals with glacier data, and developed their ability to generate and use glacier data on their own.

Learning to map glaciers with RS and GIS, participants in Afghanistan.
Photo: Samjwal Bajracharya/ICIMOD

Eighteen professionals, including four female participants, attended the training. A majority were from the Water Resource Division (WRD) of the Ministry of Energy and Water (MEW). Also attending were professionals from Kabul University; the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL); the National Environmental Protection Agency Afghanistan (NEPA); and the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA).

The participants were introduced to a common regional approach and methodology for mapping and monitoring glaciers using remote sensing techniques. The training also featured lessons on the customization of international knowledge for mapping glaciers for mountain specific situations, and the development of national and regional databases on glaciers adhering to international standardization.

The training was the first of its kind held in Afghanistan and participants were able to benefit from the lessons. It equipped the attendees with a better understanding of the status of glaciers and of glacier database. Following the training, ICIMOD will provide an on-the-job training to four professionals from the Water Resource Division as requested by the director of the division.

Besides facilitating the training, the experts from ICIMOD were also able to explore avenues for research collaboration in Afghanistan. Training attendees and the experts who attended the inaugural session had expressed interest in setting up research collaborations on flooding, risks to dams, and other areas of water resources management to cope with the changing climate and forest related activities. The training was conducted by cryosphere experts under the SERVIR-Hindu Kush Himalaya (SERVIRHKH) initiative of ICIMOD with support of USAID and NASA.


Training recipe

Conducted with a mix of lectures, hands-on exercises and discussions.


  • Introduction and status of glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya.
  • Introduction to Geographic Information System (GIS) and Remote Sensing (RS) Hands on exercises
  • Familiarization with the ArcGIS desktop environment and associated tools, hands on exercises on viewing information, creating and displaying spatial data
  • Introduction to Arc Toolbox geo-processing and Spatial Analyst extensions
  • Classifying and analyzing features, labeling features: setting rules, interactive labels and creating annotations, information about features and querying data
  • Morphological classification of glaciers,
  • Generation of glacier parameters including GLIMS (Global Land Ice Measurements from Space) glacier IDs in GIS environment
  • Delineation of clean ice and debris covered glacier separately from Landsat satellite images based on a semi-automatic method.
  • Developing an algorithm to delineate clean ice and debris covered glacier using Definiens Developer Software
  • Generation of tabular and graphical data for reports and presentations

Glacier Mapping and Monitoring session

  • Developing the spatial and non-spatial glacier attribute data.
  • Classification of captured glaciers based on Swiss TTS (Temporal Technical Secretariat) of WGI (World Glacier Inventory) and,
  • Morphological classification with hands on exercises.