Glacial Lake Burst in India
Glacial Lake Burst in India: A Disaster Fueled by Climate Change
On Wednesday, October 4, 2023, a glacial lake burst in the Indian state of Sikkim, triggering a torrential flash flood that killed at least 40 people and left dozens more missing. The flood swept away homes, bridges, and roads in the remote Himalayan region, causing widespread damage.
The disaster is a stark reminder of the growing threat of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) region. GLOFs are caused by the sudden release of large volumes of water from glacial lakes, which can be triggered by a variety of factors, including earthquakes, landslides, and climate change.
Climate change is playing an increasingly important role in GLOFs. As global temperatures rise, glaciers are melting at an accelerating rate. This is leading to the formation of new glacial lakes and the expansion of existing ones. Many of these lakes are located in unstable areas and are prone to failure.
In addition, climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as heavy rainfall and thunderstorms. These events can also trigger GLOFs by destabilizing glacial dams and causing landslides.
The GLOF in Sikkim is the latest in a series of deadly disasters that have occurred in the HKH region in recent years. In 2013, a GLOF in the Indian state of Uttarakhand killed over 5,000 people. And in 2021, a GLOF in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand caused a massive flood that killed over 200 people and destroyed several hydropower projects.
The GLOF in Sikkim is a wake-up call to the world about the growing threat of GLOFs in the HKH region. The HKH region is home to over 100,000 glaciers and is home to some of the world’s most densely populated river basins. Millions of people live downstream of glacial lakes and are at risk from GLOFs.
The international community needs to take urgent action to address the threat of GLOFs. This includes investing in research and monitoring, developing early warning systems, and strengthening disaster preparedness and response measures.
Impact of GLOFs
GLOFs can have a devastating impact on communities and ecosystems. The sudden release of large volumes of water can trigger flash floods that can inundate villages, wash away infrastructure, and cause loss of life and property. GLOFs can also damage critical ecosystems, such as forests and wetlands, and disrupt water supplies.
The long-term impacts of GLOFs can be just as severe. GLOFs can lead to the deposition of large amounts of sediment in rivers and reservoirs, which can reduce water quality and storage capacity. GLOFs can also trigger landslides and erosion, which can further damage infrastructure and ecosystems.
Climate Change and GLOFs
Climate change is exacerbating the risk of GLOFs in a number of ways. First, climate change is causing glaciers to melt at an accelerating rate. This is leading to the formation of new glacial lakes and the expansion of existing ones. Many of these lakes are located in unstable areas and are prone to failure.
Second, climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as heavy rainfall and thunderstorms. These events can also trigger GLOFs by destabilizing glacial dams and causing landslides.
Third, climate change is leading to rising sea levels. This is increasing the risk of coastal flooding in downstream areas, which can make it more difficult for communities to recover from GLOFs.
There are a number of measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of GLOFs. These include:
- Mapping and monitoring of glacial lakes: Mapping and monitoring of glacial lakes is essential for identifying lakes that are at risk of failure. This information can be used to develop early warning systems and to plan for disaster preparedness and response.
- Strengthening glacial dams: Glacial dams can be strengthened to make them more resistant to failure. This can be done by using engineering techniques, such as building walls and buttresses, or by using natural materials, such as trees and rocks.
- Early warning systems: Early warning systems can provide communities with advance notice of impending GLOFs. This allows them to evacuate to safety and to take other measures to protect themselves and their property.
- Disaster preparedness and response: Communities need to develop disaster preparedness and response plans to deal with the aftermath of GLOFs. These plans should include measures to evacuate people, provide food and shelter, and repair damaged infrastructure.
GLOFs are a serious and growing threat