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Climate Crisis in the Himalayas:Glacial Lakes and GLOF Peril



  Oct 05, 2023

Tragic Flash Floods in Sikkim Highlight the Urgency of Addressing Climate Change Consequences



A tragic incident unfolded in Sikkim as flash floods wreaked havoc, resulting in at least seven casualties, numerous injuries, and the disappearance of 22 Army personnel.
The catastrophe was triggered when a glacial lake, formed from the gradual melting of a Himalayan glacier, overflowed into the Teesta river basin, leading to the destruction of the Chungthang dam, a crucial part of the state's largest hydroelectric project.
The South Lhonak lake, situated at a high altitude of approximately 5,200 meters, had been expanding for years, posing a potential threat due to the melting ice at its head. The tragedy highlights the pressing need for monitoring and addressing the consequences of climate change in vulnerable regions.

Glacial lakes in the Himalayas are significantly impacted by climate change. Here's how:

Melting Glaciers: The Himalayan region is experiencing rapid glacier retreat due to rising temperatures caused by climate change. As glaciers melt, they contribute large volumes of water to nearby glacial lakes.

Lake Formation: As glaciers retreat, they leave behind depressions that fill with water, forming glacial lakes. These lakes can vary in size, from small ponds to large bodies of water.

Expanding Glacial Lakes: The warming climate accelerates the melting of glaciers, causing glacial lakes to expand. This expansion increases the volume of water stored in these lakes.

Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs): The growing volume of water in glacial lakes raises the risk of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs).
GLOFs occur when the natural dams holding back the water, such as moraines or ice, fail or breach. This can result in catastrophic floods downstream, endangering communities, infrastructure, and ecosystems.

Environmental Impact: GLOFs can have devastating consequences, including loss of life, damage to infrastructure, and disruption of ecosystems. These events also deposit sediment, debris, and rocks downstream, further affecting the environment.

Water Resource Changes: The melting of glaciers and the formation of glacial lakes also have implications for downstream water resources. Communities that rely on glacier-fed rivers for water supply, agriculture, and hydropower may face challenges due to changing water availability and variability.

Monitoring and Adaptation: To address these challenges, monitoring of glacial lakes and early warning systems for GLOFs are crucial. Additionally, adaptation strategies are needed to mitigate the risks associated with glacial lake expansion and the changing hydrology of the region.
 
Overall, climate change is altering the Himalayan landscape, leading to the formation and growth of glacial lakes, which pose significant risks to both local communities and the environment. Adequate measures and international cooperation are essential to address these emerging challenges.

Moraines

Moraines are landforms created by the accumulation of glacial debris, including rocks, gravel, sand, and sediment, carried and deposited by glaciers as they advance and retreat.
In the Himalayas, moraines play a crucial role in shaping the landscape. They are typically found at the terminus or edges of glaciers and can be classified into lateral, medial, and terminal moraines, depending on their location within the glacier system. Moraines serve as records of past glacial movements and are important for understanding the region's glacial history.
They also impact the flow of meltwater and are vital for the formation and containment of glacial lakes in the Himalayan region, which can be prone to glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs).


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