The Institute of Geography of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the state of geographical research

The Institute of Geography of the Republic of Kazakhstan

and the state of geographical research


History. Comprehensive geographical research in Kazakhstan began to be carried out in the Sector of Geography at the Kazakh Branch of the Academy of Sciences, created in 1938 as an independent structure by the decision of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

In 1983, the Sector was transformed into the Institute of Geography as part of the Academy of Sciences of the Kazakh SSR by the Decree of the Council of Ministers of the Kazakh SSR. Currently, the Institute of Geography is one of the oldest research centers in the geographical profile in Kazakhstan and the only in the Central Asian region. Currently, there are 156 people in the Institute's staff, including 1 Academician of the NAS of the RK,  1 corresponding member of the NAS of the RK, 12 Doctors, 28 Candidates of Sciences, 1 PhD, 11 doctoral students and 9 postgraduates;

  • the average age of employees is 53 years;
  • the average age of the heads of laboratories is 50 years;
  • 55,3 % of employees of the Institute are young professionals, who master the methods of modern scientific research.

Two scientific departments operate at the Institute: Department of Water Problems and Department of Geography and Geoecology, as well as 9 specialized laboratories: glaciology, landscape study and problems of nature management, geomorphology and geoinformation mapping, geography of tourism and recreational geography, water resources; water supply of natural and economic systems, hydrochemistry and environmental toxicology; natural hazards; geographic information systems. There are 6 year-round scientific field stations functioning in the mountains of the Northern Tien Shan,  in the near-Aral Sea, near-Caspian Sea and near-Balkhash Lake areas.

Currently, the nature of our planet is experiencing a tremendous anthropogenic pressure as a result of human activity. This led to the aggravation and, accordingly,  to the actualization of the problem of interaction of the environment and society to the unprecedented scale, which is the main object of study of geographical science.

Geography is the only scientific discipline that combines social and humanitarian (economic, social, political geography, geography of population, human resources and tourism, problems of demography, etc.) and natural (climate change, hydrology and surface water resources, glaciology and geocryology, geomorphology, landscape study, problems of geoecology) components in their interaction as the basis for the environmentally sound nature management and sustainable development at the sectoral, national and regional levels.

Geography does not refer to the category of technical sciences, so it is not engaged in the development of technical projects, technical regulations, creation of technical devices. Therefore, the research of the Institute of Geography is a-priory in no way associated with the development of technology, technical regulations and specific technical problems, same as in scientific institutions of similar profile in the world.

Main directions. During 78 years of its activity, the Institute of Geography fulfilled a huge block of research in many areas of geographical science in Kazakhstan.

Under the conditions of independence, the research of the Institute gained new impetus, since geographical science, as well as throughout the world, is in demand in Kazakhstan. These are the problem of climate change and food security, fresh water scarcity, degradation of glaciers, the intensification of natural hazards (floods, mudflows, landslides, avalanches and complex of meteorological risks), etc.

The mentioned directions of research of the Institute are classified as strategic and are grouped into four main blocks:

  • Assessment and forecast of resources and the regime of surface waters of the Republic of Kazakhstan, taking into account climate change and the economic activity, the development of the geographical bases of ensuring water security of the Republic of Kazakhstan as a basis for sustainable development.
  • Identification of patterns of formation and distribution of hazardous natural phenomena, natural disasters and environmentally hazardous environmental changes with the assessment of their socio-economic consequences.
  • Assessment of the natural and resource potential of the country, the development of information and analytical base of national and regional programs of environmental management, environmental protection, reconstruction of the ecologically destabilized natural and economic systems.
  • Atlas mapping of geographic systems of the national, regional and sectoral levels with the use of modern geoinformation technologies.

In the context of these directions, in the last 10-15 years only, large-scale and very important research was carried out for the country.

Large-scale research of the Institute of Geography.

On water issues. In accordance with the Decree of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Institute of Geography, as an expert organization, was given a task to prepare scientific and applied study on the design and construction of the Koksarai reservoir, the implementation of which practically eliminated the annual winter floods with the flooding of residential areas of the lower reaches of the river, and was the basis for solving the problem of stability of the yield of agricultural lands in Kyzylorda region.

On the direct order of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan N.A. Nazarbayev, large-scale studies on the problem of ensuring water security of the country were carried out. The results of the works were presented and approved at the meeting of the Security Council, headed by the President of the country. Over the whole history of Kazakhstan, the works of such scope were performed for the first time, the result of the works was the 30-volume monograph "Water resources of Kazakhstan: assessment, forecast, management". In this context, on the decision of the Security Council and according to the "Development Strategy of the Republic of Kazakhstan - 2050", the Institute is currently implementing two programs on the creation of problem-oriented geospatial information system "Water resources of Kazakhstan and their use"; and "Water Security Strategies of the Republic of Kazakhstan" on the scientific substantiation with the mechanisms to achieve the major objectives of the "Strategy - 2050".

In addition, the Institute has prepared an alternative variant of the "State Water Management Program till 2020" project, the main provisions of which are included in the final version of the State Program.

The concept of "water security" of the Republic of Kazakhstan, as a factor in the country's transition to sustainable development, was worked out in the development of constructive direction of geography.

The concept gives an assessment of the hydrological threats and challenges at the global regional and national levels, the consequences of the realization of which are the "water crises", manifested in the appearance of zones of ecological instability, disruption of programs of economic development, the growth of social tension, aggravation of interstate water relations. The ways to prevent and eliminate water shortages in the country by means of "water conservation" and "water supply" are determined, a water safety system of criteria that reflect the fundamental "society - water environment" relationship, is proposed.

Concept is put as the basis for the fulfilled by the Institute of Geography fundamental and applied scientific-technical programs on the problems of water resources assessment and water supply in Kazakhstan, the results of which were for the first time in Kazakhstan and throughout the former Soviet Union published in a 30-volume monograph "Water resources of Kazakhstan: assessment, forecast, management".

There was developed a concept of the Unified System of water supply to the Republic of Kazakhstan (USWSRK) as a combination of the country's water sources and water users with the uniting them hydroeconomic infrastructure, the functioning and development of which is characterized by stochasticity and uncertainty. The methodology of simulation dynamic-stochastic modeling, which is the modern way to study complex systems in the physical-mathematical and natural sciences was used for the first time to solve the problems of strategic planning of the USWSRK. The developed geospatial simulation model of the development of USWSRK is an effective tool to improve the soundness and efficiency of the decisions taken in the field of strategic objectives of the water resources management.

On the basis of the theory of decision making in the conditions of uncertainty, the term of "hydrological risk" as a " value of losses" was developed in the natural and economic system due to the uniquely unpredictable deficit (or surplus) of the available resources of river runoff. Methodical bases of management of hydrological risks by means of water conservation, inter-component water allocation, regulation of river runoff, involving alternative water sources were elaborated.

The geographical bases for the formation of inter-basin and transboundary water management connections are worked out in the development of the Unified System of water supply to the Republic of Kazakhstan, including:

– trans-Kazakhstan Yertis - Syrdariya channel to improve water supply to the districts of the Central, Northern and Southern Kazakhstan, as well as the transit of the runoff of Russian rivers to Central Asia;

– interbasin transfer of the part of the Yertis runoff on the Buktyrma - Balkash highway to conserve Balkash lake in the conditions of reduction of the transboundary runoff of Ile from the territory of China;

– "Katun - Buktyrma" transboundary water and energy complex, replenishing the reduction of river runoff to Kazakhstan and Russia from China.

The hydro-ecological monitoring system in an ecologically depressed areas of the Kazakhstan's near-Aral Sea region was developed and put into operation since 1994. Monitoring has become a source of information support of the implemented by the Institute of Geography fundamental and applied research, as well as international projects, which resulted in:

– the establishing of the fundamental patterns of the hydrological regime of the Syrdariya delta in terms of disturbed river inflow with the formulation of recommendations on conservation and restoration of the delta lake systems and the development of water related infrastructure;

– the development and implementation of water supply, fisheries and environmental rehabilitative projects in 10 settlements of the delta regions most affected by the "Aral Sea crisis" (Bogen, Kaukey, Kamyslybash, Karateren, Urkendeu, Zhankozha Batyr, Tuktibayev, Maidakol, Bozkol);

– the fulfillment of a scientific substantiation of the design and construction of the Koksarai reservoir on the Syrdariya river to solve the problems of winter flood prevention and elimination of water shortages in the summer in the Kazakhstan's part of the Aral-Syrdariya basin (on the order of the Government of the RK).

On the basis of the developed methods of experimental and modeling studies of the inter-reservoir processes in Balkash lake, new fundamental patterns of the formation of flow fields in the lake waters in various synoptic situations were identified. The possibility and effectiveness of management of the inter-reservoir processes were justified, including by the redistribution of river inflow on the perimeter of the lake and the regulation of cross-flows between the western and eastern parts of the lake in Saryesik Strait.

In the field of ​​the Kazakhstan's water resources assessment and forecasting, taking into account climate change and the economic activities, the following results having scientific and practical importance, are obtained.

Further increase in surface air temperature in all months of the year for 0,8–1,2°С by 2035, as well as a slight increase in average long-term annual precipitation for 1–3% by 2035 are expected on the territory of Kazakhstan.

The total surface water resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan (household effluent) for the observation period of 1974-2008 amount to 91,3 km3/year (50% probability), of which 44,3 km3 comes from neighboring countries, 47,0 km3 is formed by the local runoff. Natural climatic runoff (restored), respectively, amounts to 115,1; 60,2 and 54,9 km3/year. Due to the economic activity, the resources of river runoff of the Republic of Kazakhstan have decreased by 23,8 km3/year (by 21%), including of the transboundary runoff – by 15,9 km3/year (by 26%), local runoff – by 7,9 km3/year (by 14%).

Based on the possibility of unfavorable realization of climatic and transboundary hydrological risks in the long term, the reduction in the resources of river runoff as a whole in Kazakhstan to 81,6 km3/year by 2020 is realistic, including the transboundary – up to 33,2 km3/year, local – up to 48,3 km3/year; by 2030 – respectively, 72,4; 22,2 and 50,2 km3/year.

Given the role of water resources as a main component of the environment, an environmental demand for water in the amount of 64,2 km3/year is identified as a whole in Kazakhstan (taking into account mandatory transboundary outflows and involuntary loss of water) as a limitation of the industrial use of water resources.

An important area of ​​work of the Institute on the water problems in the Central Asian region are glacial researches, the results of which in the reporting period are as follows:

- system of monitoring of the components of the cryosphere of the runoff formation zone (snow cover, glaciers, permafrost, glacial-caused hazards). It is based on the monitoring of the balance of the mass of Tuyyksu glacier (the observation results are sent each year to the World Service of Glacier Monitoring - Switzerland), the temperatures of seasonal and permafrost soil in 32 wells, as well as the snow cover on the base of three mountain stations of the Institute on the North Tien Shan with the data of continuous observations of 56 years (the glacier mass balance) and 43 years (soil temperature at fixed depths);

- the unified catalogs of glaciers of the Ile-Kungey, Dzhungar and Upper Ile (in the territory of China) glacier systems in the 5-6 time samples for the period from 1955/56 to 2015, and new inventories of glaciers of the basins of Arys, Pskem and Yertys rivers for the period from 1960 to 2011. On their basis, the modern and forecasting changes in snow and ice resources in the region were assessed;

- for the first time developed methods for assessing modern and forecasting changes in glacier systems according to data of monitoring of glaciation of particular basins or individual glaciers with an error of not more than ±5%;

- the results of the assessment of the role of ice runoff in the summary river runoff during the year and the growing season with a forecast of probable changes in snowmelt runoff from the glaciers for the period up to 2050. According to these results, it is exactly glacial runoff, making at the outlet of the rivers from the mountains up to 50% of the total river runoff during the growing season, provides the possibility of the existence of prevailing in Central Asia system of irrigated agriculture itself. It is exactly this that causes the increasing concern of the international scientific community about the continuing degradation of mountain glaciation with the respective consequences for the water, food, environmental security and sustainable development of countries in Central Asia;

- firstly formulated concepts about the role of meltwater of underground ices (the buried glaciers, ice of rock glaciers and permafrost) as the source of the compensation runoff, presumably ensuring the relative stability of the regional water resources in terms of degradation of glaciation;

- the results of the assessment of the role of urbanized areas and man-modified landscapes in the formation of the fields of surface air temperature, which allowed to conclude that the actual rate of climate warming on the territory of Kazakhstan and neighboring Central Asian countries are by 2,5-3 times lower than those specified in the National reports on climate change of countries of the region. In view of these results, the need to adjust the strategies of adaptation of population and economies of the region's countries to likely climate changes in the foreseeable future is evident.

The Institute of Geography is one of the key members of the Kazakhstan-Chinese Commission for the development of an intergovernmental agreement on the joint use of Ile and Yertis rivers, in the justification of which the Institute conducted the extensive research to assess the state and dynamics of water and glacier resources of transboundary basins.

In the field of ensuring the security of objects of social and economic purpose from the dangerous natural phenomena and natural disasters, significant researches to identify the patterns of the formation and the territory of their distribution are carried out, the basic algorithms to combat them are determined.

The method of assessment and mapping of natural hazards and natural risks is developed on the basis of a joint analysis of the occurrence, frequency and the scale of manifestations of hazardous processes, as well as the importance and vulnerability of social and economic facilities, subject to their influence.

The maps of natural hazards and risks caused by mudflows, avalanches and landslides are made: small-scale - for the whole Kazakhstan, medium-scale - for the individual mountain basins, large-scale - for the areas, most exposed to these processes. The maps are designed to organize environmental management, to create General schemes of protection of the territories from natural disasters, to develop protective measures.

The anthology of mudflows on the territory of Kazakhstan, which numbers more than 2000 cases of mudflow phenomena, is compiled.

  In the area of atlas mapping. With gaining the independence, there came the issue of creation of the "National Atlas of the Republic of Kazakhstan", which is perceived in the world as the only visual means, showing the sovereignty of the one or another state formation. On the order of the leadership of the country, such Atlas was created in 2010, which, together with the industrial "Atlas of natural and technological hazards and risks of emergencies in the Republic of Kazakhstan" and the regional "Atlas of Mangystau region", was awarded  the State Prize of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the field of science and technology in 2013. Atlas and interactive maps of the Atlas of Atyrau region were created in 2014.

In the field of ecological and geographical problems. Food safety is the basic social problem, the solution of which is impossible without a thorough analysis of the current state and assessment of the most important trends of the change in the landscape systems and the transition of Kazakhstan to the model of sustainable, balanced land use.

Scientific research works on the assessment of the state and forecast of the development of desertification processes, as well as their influence on the territory of agricultural reclamation – ensuring food safety, are fulfilled.

Within the framework of the scientific research works of the Institute of Geography,  the landscape-ecological bases for ensuring food safety of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which contribute to an increase in the level of economic efficiency of landscapes of agricultural use and the ensuring of food safety of the country, make it possible to fulfill the main requirement of food safety in Kazakhstan – increase in the volumes and range of food products and preservation of landscape and resources potential of the territories used in agricultural production, are developed.

The importance and the need to solve the issues of transboundary nature management in the field of environmental activities of neighboring countries are reflected in the various Intergovernmental Agreements of Kazakhstan with other countries. Scientific research on the identification of landscape and ecological problems of border territories of Kazakhstan, related to various types of nature management is carried out at the Institute of Geography, nature conservation measures aimed at creating conditions for sustainable development of frontier natural and economic systems of Kazakhstan in the context of transboundary cooperation were developed as a result of the research.

The conceptual and methodological bases for the assessment and mapping of the Kazakhstan's relief and modern relief-forming processes, as well as the processes of desertification, are developed. A set of thematic maps in these area of research in the country and regional context is compiled.

Projects for the protection of several settlements of Mangystau region from drifting with blown sands are developed and successfully implemented for the first time in Kazakhstan. As a result of the works, the environmental threat to the health and livelihoods of more than 5 thousand people was eliminated, more than 700 thousand hectares of blown sands were reclaimed through involving the local population, the developed comprehensive methodology of sand fixation is implemented and used in the field.

The work related to oil and gas exploration, the works on the assessment and mapping of modern relief-forming processes of the Kazakhstan's sector of the shelf and coastal areas of the Caspian Sea also have the pronounced practical orientation.

The Institute traditionally has close cooperation with world centers of geographical science, it participated in the development of more than 20 international projects jointly with scientists from Germany, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Japan, China, and is deservedly perceived as an important center of modern geographical science by the world scientific community. It is no accident that the Central Asian regional glaciological Center under the auspices of UNESCO, and also the "International Water Assessment Centre" (IWAC) as a regional structure of OSCE, are being established on the basis of the Institute in accordance with the Agreement signed between the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan and UNESCO.

A common database with cartographic visualization in interactive mode for assessing the socio-economic and environmental factors that cause tuberculosis and its spread is established for the first time in Kazakhstan in the framework of the international project of the "Nazarbayev University" JSC - Institute of Geography of the MES of the RK - Columbia University ( The base is introduced to relevant institutions and organizations of the Ministry of Public Health.

Within the framework of the international program of the European Community «Сaspian sea environmental and industrial data&information service (Сaspinfo)», for the first time metadata and maps of the natural conditions, the resource potential of the Caspian Sea and its coastal part, the data on the socio-economic development of Atyrau and Mangystau regions were included in the global database for the study and use of the resources of oceans and seas. As a result of the project, Google Maps Demonstrator and CASPINFO portal were developed and implemented.

Given the critical importance of integrated geographical research, a public organization - the Geographical Society of Kazakhstan - had been functioning at the Institute for many years, and it had been recreated as the "Kazakhstan's National Geographic Society" at the "Nazarbayev University" on the proposal from the competent authorities.

The development of the Kazakhstan's tourism requires the creation of a new paradigm, which provides for satisfying the recreational needs of the population with the condition of preservation of the quality and sustainability of the natural subsystem to changing anthropogenic load. During the period under study, the following main results were obtained in the field of geography of tourism and recreation:

- a comprehensive scientific bases of the balanced organization, planning and management of recreation and tourism of the Republic of Kazakhstan were developed for the first time in the framework of a single multi-aspect set of works;

- geographic tools to improve efficiency of planning and management of the national tourism and recreation industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan were developed for the first time;

- recommendations on the regulation of recreational loads on natural systems and for sustainable development of tourism in the Republic of Kazakhstan were elaborated;

- unified methodological and methodical bases of assessment and mapping of tourist and recreational resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan were developed;

- techniques and cartographic models of environmentally sound recreational environmental management of mountain and lowland areas of the Republic of Kazakhstan were established for the first time.

The participation of the Institute in the implementation of state research programs and international projects. Currently, the Institute of Geography is a developer and performer of four scientific-technological programs on fundamental and applied research in the field of natural sciences on the program-target and grant funding: "Water security of the Republic of Kazakhstan: "Geospatial Information System "Water Resources of Kazakhstan and their use" (2014-2016), "Water security of the Republic of Kazakhstan - sustainable water supply strategy", "Evolution of glaciers and glacial systems of transboundary basins in Kazakhstan and neighboring Central Asian countries as a basis for assessing current and forecasted changes in regional water resources", "Geographical bases of improvement of the system of resettlement of the population of Kazakhstan" (2015-2017) and 9 projects on fundamental and applied research in the field of natural sciences on grant funding: "The dynamics of the cryosphere of the zone of formation of the runoff of the Balkash-Alakol basin as a basis for ensuring water security and long-term planning of development of the water sector of the economy", "Hydrological bases of conservation of wetland ecosystem and the increase of the capacity of the Ile river delta resources", "Contemporary changes in the water regime of the rivers of the south-east of Kazakhstan and their perspective state for 2020-2050", "Determination of the borders of avalanche-prone zones in the mountainous regions of Kazakhstan with the use of computer modeling for environmental management", "Hazardous exogenous processes caused by earthquakes in Kazakhstan and their influence on the sustainable nature management", "To develop scientific bases of landscape planning of the environmentally balanced land use in the context of food security of Kazakhstan", "To develop a scheme of the organization of sustainable nature management of the border area of ​​Kazakhstan in the context of transboundary cooperation", "Ecological and geomorphological assessment of the territory of the suburban zone of Astana in the conditions of agglomeration development", "Agro-climatic resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the context of climate change" (2015-2017).

In addition, it carries out a number of projects, the administrators of which are the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Akimat of Mangystau region. The Institute of Geography is actively involved in the implementation of a number of international projects with foreign partners, including on the Newton-Al Farabi Program for the projects "On the development of water management system in South Kazakhstan in the context of rapid climate change under the influence of natural and anthropogenic factors" with the University in the city of Aberistvis (21.09.2015 - 31.12.2016) and "Climate change, water resources and food safety in Kazakhstan" (21.07.2015-31.12.2016) in the city of Reading (Great Britain), for the continuing project "The assessment of the role of glaciers and seasonal snow cover in the hydrology of mountainous Asia" with the members of the Board of the University of Colorado (USA) (2013-2016), on the socio-economic aspects of the project "Groundwater - the near-Tashkent transboundary aquifer" with UNESCO.

In this regard, the abovementioned research areas of the Institute do not correspond to the priorities of the universities of the technical profile.

Publications. The results of scientific research of the Institute of Geography are published in national and international journals, including the editions with a high rating. Since 2007, the Institute of Geography publishes a quarterly scientific journal "Problems of Geography and Geo-ecology", which has an international ISSN 1998 - 7838 and the subscription index of Kazpost - 24155. The journal indexed by the Kazakhstan's Base of Citation has impact factor, which was 0,082 in 2012.


Conclusions and proposals.

  1. The Institute of Geography is a self-sufficient, successful scientific organization, the activities of which are aimed at solving strategically important tasks that are relevant not only for Kazakhstan, but also for the countries of the Central Asian region. The demand for the results of its research will increase in the future as well.
  2. Scientific and applied research of the Institute show that it is the only organization in the country, where the most extensive and important research on the relevant in the country socio-humanitarian and natural areas of geographical sciences is carried out: on water issues, including the evolution of glacial systems of mountain areas in the context of climate and human-caused changes, natural hazards, agro-climatic conditions for ensuring food security, solving problems of desertification, geographic bases for resettlement of the population, recreation, tourism and the creation of thematic maps, including atlas and of different content.
  3. Scientific research structures of international importance are created at the Institute of Geography:
  • the Central Asian Regional Glaciological Center under the auspices of UNESCO;
  • International Water Assessment Centre (IWAC) as the regional structure of OSCE.

In connection with the stated above, we consider it appropriate to maintain the independent status of the Institute of Geography, as a recognized center of geographical science of Kazakhstan, the results of research of which are in demand in our country and abroad.



Director of the Institute of Geography,

Corresponding Member of the NAS RK, Dr.G.Sc., Professor                          A.R. Medeu