Uttarakhand disaster: Glacial lake flood threat rising with temperature in hill states


New Delhi: Rising temperatures in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) are leading to a rapid increase in the number and area of glacial lakes and have the potential to wreak havoc in Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, two soon-to-be published studies have warned.

The highest threat from glacial lake outburst floods is in J&K and Sikkim, while in Uttarakhand’s Badrinath and Kedarnath areas, major new hazards exist along with increasing pressure posed by hydropower plants.

“Future warming over the IHR is projected to exceed 2.5°C by the end of the 21st century, based on 129-year period (1971-2099) analysis. Climate-driven changes and impacts are clearly observed. Glaciers are losing mass and retreating at varying rates since the early 20th century… Extreme floods represent the most frequent natural disaster in the IHR,” according to the study to be published next month.

The number and area of glacial lakes in the IHR increased by about 8.8% and 14%, respectively, on average during 1990-2015, according to the study titled ‘Climate Change, Cryosphere and Impacts in the Indian Himalayan Region’ by scholars from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, National Institute of Hydrology, among others, besides experts from the Universities of Zurich and Geneva in Switzerland.

The study notes the predicament posed due to demand for energy and the threat that hydropower plants could pose.

“Existing and planned hydropower plants are exposed to potential outburst floods from glacial lakes, often with 10 to 100 lakes upstream of single plants,” the report points out.

The other study – ‘Glacial Lake Outburst Flood Danger in the Indian Himalayan Region’ – warns about glacial lake disasters in the Kedarnath and Badrinath regions. It adds that while there is no immediate threat to the Kedarnath region following the 2013 full breach of Chorabari lake, the future formation of glacial lakes in the valley will lead to potential new threats in the upper Mandakini Valley with “disastrous consequences” for the area.

The Badrinath region, which faces danger from two valleys, possibly faces a significant additional flood threat from nearby valleys as well due to the formation of new glacial lakes, the study warned.

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