Earth Science | VOL. 13, ISSUE 76, January-February 2013

The Glacial Lake Outburst Prone Regions of the Himalaya

Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) are related to global warming. As the temperatures in the Himalaya soar, the glaciers retreat during the summer, leaving behind water filled, moraine dammed, precarious lakes holding huge amounts of water in a very unstable geomorphology. GLOFs have been known to occur in different parts of the world. In 1941, an outburst flood destroyed the city of Huaraz in Peru killing 4,500 people. Outbursts from a glacier-dammed lake in the Swiss Alps in 1968 and 1970 triggered debris flow and caused heavy damage to the village of Saas Balen. In the Himalayan realms, with its greatest concentration of glaciers outside of the poles, such an event would assume catastrophic proportions with urban inroads in higher altitudes, ever-expanding infrastructure and poor to non-existent integrated water management systems as opined in a paper by P Mukhopadhyay, 2011, titled ‘GLOF- A Threat Present and Real: Indian Summary’. According to the IPCC, 2001 assessments, the rising global mean temperatures by 2100 from 1.4° to 5.8°C, depending on the climate model and greenhouse gases emission scenario, would mean that up to a quarter of the global mountain glacier mass can disappear by 2050 and up to half could be lost by 2100 (IPCC, 1996). GLOF threats to the Indian Subcontinent: The Himalaya, ‘third pole’ of the earth, comprises one of the largest collections of glaciers...

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