The Himalaya, temperatures are rising, we’re seeing these lakes growing, and the smaller ponds are starting to coalesce, this problem is only going to get worse and floods threaten.
The breathtaking consequence of the battle between two tectonic plates, is home to spectacular mountains and a family of glaciers whose waters sustain 1.65 billion people across the region.The thawing of these glaciers leaves behind a myriad of lakes, some of which can suddenly burst their banks and flood downstream.
If something causes the water level to suddenly rise, such as an avalanche of ice or rock, or those barriers break via an earthquake or prolonged weathering you can get a glacial lake outburst flood, or GLOF. These have happened all around the world, and since 1935, around 40 GLOF disasters have taken place across the Tibetan Plateau.
As reported 210 glacial lakes in the region potentially threaten human settlements. Simon Allen, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich and says that he was surprised that the number of potentially hazardous lakes was so high, despite the region being sparsely populated.
The researchers are already calling for the same remote sensing work to be carried out across much of the wider region, where many more hazardous lakes lie in wait.
A recent comprehensive report on the Hindu Kush Himalaya region found that our rapidly warming world is decimating its glaciers. “Irrespective of whether we manage to curb greenhouse gases in line with the Paris agreement, we will lose a third of these glaciers,” says Jiduc. “If not, we could lose up to two-thirds of them.”
The calculus is relatively straightforward. Larger lakes lead to larger GLOFs and the increasing population of lakes higher upslope means that ice avalanches can hit them more easily. As time goes on, GLOFs should increase in frequency and magnitude.
The clock, therefore, is ticking. If disasters are to be averted, everyone from policymakers and researchers to charities and communities has to work closely together. “Transboundary issues require transboundary partnerships,” says Jiduc.