We study crustal deformation in the northern Tien Shan as recorded in strain rates derived from earthquake and GPS data. Geodetic strain rates indicate general shortening along the N-S component and agree with Quaternary fault slip rates and with the strain field obtained from earthquake mechanisms, all being signature of overall north-south contraction in the region.

The GPS strain field changes quickly in time, especially in the W-E direction, and is produced by a joint effect of elastic, plastic, and quasi-plastic deformation. The seismological strain field reflects the effect of external tectonic forces applied to seismogenic crust and the stress change due to crustal heterogeneity and geometry of the study area. Seismological and GPS strain rates carry information of different kinds. The former reflect formation of local structures mainly in the brittle crust, such as a local pull-apart in the center of the Lake Issyk Kul area, whereas the latter provide clues to mechanisms that drive the geological evolution of the mountain terrain as a whole. The current evolution may involve the effect of density instability at the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary.

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