Sunday, September 24, 2023

Flooding Caused by Glacial Lakes Threatens 15 Million People Worldwide

Fifteen million people worldwide are at risk of flooding caused by glacial lakes, with just four countries accounting for more than half of those affected.

An international team of scientists led by Newcastle University in the United Kingdom has produced the first global assessment of areas most vulnerable to Glacial Lake Outburst Floods and identified priority areas for mitigation.

Glacial flooding threatens millions globally

(Photo : XAVIER GALIANA/AFP via Getty Images)

As the climate warms, glaciers retreat and meltwater collect at the glacier’s front, forming a lake.

These lakes can suddenly burst, causing a fast-flowing Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) that can spread over a large distance from the original site – up to 120 kilometers in some cases, as per ScienceDaily.

GLOFs can be extremely destructive, destroying property, infrastructure, and agricultural land while also causing significant loss of life.

As a result of climate change, the number of glacial lakes has increased dramatically since 1990.

At the same time, the population living in these catchments has grown significantly.

The study looked at 1,089 glacial lake basins around the world, as well as the number of people living within 50 kilometers of them, the level of development in those areas, and other societal indicators as indicators of vulnerability to GLOFs.

They then used this data to quantify and rank the global potential for damage from GLOFs, as well as assess communities’ ability to respond effectively to a flood.

According to the findings, 15 million people live within 50 kilometers of a glacial lake, and High Mountain Asia, which includes the Tibetan Plateau from Kyrgyzstan to China, has the highest GLOF risk, with 9.3 million people potentially at risk.

India and Pakistan have approximately 5 million exposed people, accounting for roughly one-third of the global total.

Lead researcher, Caroline Taylor, a doctoral student at Newcastle University, said that this work served to highlight that it’s not the areas with the largest number of most rapidly growing lakes that are most dangerous.

Instead, the potential danger from a GLOF event is determined by the number of people, their proximity to a glacial lake, and, most importantly, their ability to cope with a flood.

The study, published in Nature Communications, also identified Peru as one of four countries, along with India, Pakistan, and China, that account for more than half of the people worldwide who are at risk of glacial lake flooding.

The research team emphasized the relative scarcity of research on the dangers posed by glacial lakes in the Andes, stating that more research is urgently needed to better understand the potential GLOF danger on a local level in this area due to the large number of people living in close proximity to glacial lakes and their reduced capacity to cope with the impact of a GLOF.

Also Read: Scientists Use Drones to Reduce Disastrous Flooding From Glacial Lakes

Glacial lake threat still real

Pakistan is known as the third pole because it has the most moving snow mountains outside of the Antarctic and Arctic polar caps, with over 7,000 glaciers, as per TRT World.

Rising temperatures cause glaciers to melt, resulting in glacial lakes that can burst at any time, causing flash floods in towns spread across the foothills.

The Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) struck the Hunza district in May of this year, during a heatwave that swept across the country.

The May flash floods were caused by a breach in Shisper glacial lake, which is only about half a square kilometer in size.

It probably released around 50 million cubic meters of water.

However, it was sufficient to wash away a major bridge on the Karakoram Highway, submerge a hydropower plant, and destroy houses.

Glaciers constantly melt and move, causing lakes to form and, on occasion, burst violently.

Monitoring the effects of climate change on glaciers is a relatively new phenomenon in Pakistan.

Water authorities use telemetric stations to track glacial melt, but this is done to regulate the water flow of hydropower dams.

Related article: What You Need to Know About Shishper’s Glacial Lake Outburst Floods

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