Central Asian glaciers, compared to other glaciers in the world, should exhibit a different response to changing climate owing to (i) the extreme continentality that gives rise to aridity and large seasonal temperature variations, and (ii) the coincidence of accumulation and ablation seasons in summer. A detailed 4year field survey has been carried out on Sofiyskiy glacier in the south Chuya range(Altai mountains), Russia. Field observations reveal that this glacier retreated steadily during the 20th century at a rate of 18.3 m a–1, considerably faster than Maliy Aktru glacier, 30km to the north. Based on radio-echo sounding (RES), the subglacial topography of Sofiyskiy glacier has been reconstructed, and stake and snow-pit measurements enable the determination of surface velocity and mass balance. Basal sliding plays an important role in Sofiyskiyglacier’s behaviour, as is shown by a force-balance analysis. An analysis of RES measurements yields the bed reflection power (BRP). Using the three-layer reflectivity model of Born and Wolf (1986), the BRP is compared with the theoretical bed reflectivity for two contrasting layers of varying porosity and thickness. Results indicate that Sofiyskiy glacier possibly exhibits a polythermal regime.