Uttarakhand floods: How rise in size and number of glacial lakes pose threat of similar incidents to the mountainous state

By: |
February 9, 2021 12:36 PM

These studies show how global warming has led to an increase in the number of glacier lakes and how they pose a threat of causing largescale flooding and destruction

Uttrakhand floods, Uttrakhand avalanche in Chamoli district, Uttrakhand glacier outburstNew evidence had indeed made Uttarakhand incident look like a result of a landslide or snow avalanche. (IE Image)

Evidence collected by teams of scientists investigating the cause of Sunday flash floods suggests that glacier outburst might not have caused the flash floods in Uttarakhand on Sunday but a few studies conducted in the last few years pointed towards glacial lakes posing flood threats in the Himalayan states.

These studies show how global warming has led to an increase in the number of glacier lakes and how they pose a threat of causing largescale flooding and destruction. The Kedarnath tragedy that happened in June 2013 involved a breach in glacial lakes.

Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in its 2005 inventory found there are 127 glacial lakes in Uttarakhand In 2015 the number grew to 365 lakes, suggested National Remote Sensing Centre in Hyderabad. If the data provided by the scientists of these two centres can be believed, in 10 years the states witnessed an increase in 235 lakes.

But the truth of the matter is some of these lakes were in remote locations that could not have been traced by the satellites in the 2005 study. With modern technology and better resolution satellites, scientists can picture the mountains with more clarity and trace a larger number of lakes.

Syed Iqbal Hasnain, prominent glaciologists and Pro-Chancellor of Jamia Hamdard University talking to IE said that glacial lakes have been increasing not just in Uttarakhand but other mountainous states in India as well. This inescapable trend is happening due to retreating glaciers. It is concerning as rise in the number of glacier lakes makes flash flood like incidents a common phenomenon there. This also points at how concerning the problem of climate change is.

Not just number, the size of the glacial lakes are also increasing. More the glacier retreats more does its size increase. The retreat of glaciers in Uttarakhand has been happening since 1960s says a 2015 paper published in the Journal of Indian Society of Remote Sensing. The study, authored by K Babu Govindha Raj and K Vinod Kumar showed that area under Gharwal region in the state increased by 33 per cent between 1990 and 2009.

The study further explained that proglacial lakes are growing faster compared to other kinds of glacial lakes. Hence the origin of new lakes in glacial valleys with human settlements and their potential outburst needs to be analysed.

Although these glacial lakes are a major source of water supply in those areas for agricultural, industrial use and for the generation of hydroelectric power but they also have the potential to cause massive floods like the one that happened on Sunday. There’s needs to make more efforts, investment of money and human resources to study these areas, Hasnain concluded.

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