The Greater Caucasus mountain range extends along the northern territory of Georgia for about 750 km. The northern slopes and watersheds of the Caucasus contain more glaciers than the southern slopes, due to higher relief and extremely partitioned slopes, gorges and cirque depressions, associated with the Würm Pleistocene period. The Georgian glaciers are concentrated mostly in the southern watersheds, as well as in the sub-ranges of the Greater Caucasus and Kazbegi massif.
Glaciers in this region are an important source of water for agricultural production, and runoff supplies several hydroelectric power stations. Most rivers originate in the mountains, and the melting of glaciers/snow is an important component of the inputs in terms of water supply and for recreational opportunities. However, glacier hazards are relatively common in this region, leading to major loss of life. On 17 May 2014, for example, Devdoraki Glacier initiated a catastrophic ice-debris flow killing nine people. Glaciers of Georgia also have economic importance as a major tourist attraction, e.g. Svaneti, Racha and Kazbegi regions in Georgia, with thousands of visitors each year.
The study of glaciers in the Caucasus began in the first quarter of the 18th century, in the works of Georgian scientist Vakhushti Bagrationi: [“There are big mountains, which have the Caucasus to the North from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, the height of which is of one day walking and the highest of it is permanently frosty, the length of the ice is of k-l arm, and in summer it breaks and, if a man stays there, he cannot endure the cold even for a little time; and under it the rivers flow, and the ice is green and red, as a rock due to its age” (Vakhusti, Description of the Kingdom of Georgia, 1941)].
After almost hundred years the foreign scientists began to describe the glaciers of Georgia. Information about the glaciers of Georgia can be found in the works of W. H. Abich (1865), G. Radde (1873), N. Dinik (1884), D. Freshfield (1896), I. Rashevskiy (1904), etc. This information is related to the individual glaciers and mostly is of descriptive nature. However, their findings greatly assist us in determining the dynamics of the individual glaciers.
Studies focused on glacier mapping began when Podozerskiy (1911) published the first inventory of the Greater Caucasus glaciers, based on large-scale military topographical maps (1 : 42 000) from 1881 to 1910. Detailed analysis of these early data showed some defects in the depicted shape of the glaciers and in particular those in inaccessible valley glaciers. A. L. Reinhardt (1916, 1936) noted Podozerskiy’s errors in compiling a new catalogue for some glacial basins of the Greater Caucasus region.
Interesting researches were conducted by F. Rutkovskaia (1936) in connection with the 2nd International Polar Year. In 1932-1933 the glaciations of the Enguri River was studied and the dynamics (in the one-year period) of the individual glaciers were identified.
In 1959 P. A. Ivankov gave us the total number and area of glaciers of the study area based on the new topographic maps and the aeroimages of 1946. In the same year P. Kovalev (1961) described in details the glaciers and carried out their labeling.
Much work has been conducted by D. Tsereteli for the study of the glaciers of Georgia, who in 1937 together with Al. Aslanikashvili surveyed several glaciers and in 1963 gave us the dynamics of the glaciers during the period of 1937-1960.
Particularly should be mentioned the great and versatile work, which was done by the Glaciological Laboratory of Vakhushti Bagrationi Institute of Geography, the multiannual work of which is summarized in the 1975 year’s edition of the Catalogue of Glaciers, as well as by the Hydrographical Division of the Hydro-Meteorological Department, which published the work about the Glaciers of the Greater Caucasus (Editors: V. Tsomaia and E. Drobishev, 1970).
It should be also noted the many years research of various glaciers in the major river basins by R. Gobejishvili. It can be considered his honor that after the 1990s the glaciological studies have not been stopped in Georgia.
L. Maruashvili, D. Ukleba. T. Kikalishvili, G. Kurdghelaidze, D. Tabidze, R. Khazaradze, O. Nikolaishvili, V. Tsomaia, O. Drobishev, R. Shengelia, R. Gobejishvili, K. Mgeladze, T. Lashkhi, Sh. Inashvili, N. Golodovskaya, L. Serebryannii, A. Orlov, O. Nadareishvili, N. Zakarashvili, A. Rekhviashvili, O. Samadbegishvili, S. Javakhishvili and others studied the glaciers of Georgia according to the river basins. Glacial-geomorphological works were being carried out from 1968 (R. Gobejishvili). The largest glaciers of the different river basins were surveyed by the photo-theodolite method, such as: Zopkhito-Laboda, Kirtisho, Brili, Chasakhtomi, Edena, Khvargula, Boko, Buba, Tbilisa, Adishi, Chalaati, Dolra, Kvishi, Ladevali, Shkhara, Namkvani, Koruldashi, Marukhi, Klichi and the cirque type glaciers of the Klichi basin.
More comprehensive work about the Georgian Caucasus glaciers based on the old topographical maps, Landsat and ASTER satellite imagery, recently published by Tielidze (2016) and Tielidze and Wheate (2018).
(a) Distribution of the Greater Caucasus glaciers. (b) 1960s 1 : 50 000 scale map sheets (88) are based on aerial photographs, 1950–1960 (c) Six Landsat 5 TM satellite scenes, 1985–1987. (d) Seven Landsat 8 OLI satellite scenes from 2013 to 2016 and two (smaller) ASTER satellite scenes from 2014.