Friday December 6, 2019
Home Environment Himalayas&#82...

Himalayas’ Killer Lakes Expanding as Global Warming Accelerates Melting

Obliterating everything in its path, a burst is predictable only in its destructiveness

0
//
Himalaya, Lakes, Global Warming
A view of the Imja glacial lake controlled exit channel in the Everest region of the Solukhumbu district, 140 km northeast of Kathmandu, Nov. 22, 2018. Nepal's Imja glacial lake would be a miracle to behold, were it not a portent of catastrophic floods. VOA

When a “Himalayan tsunami” roars down from the rooftop of the world, water from an overflowing glacial lake obeys gravity. Obliterating everything in its path, a burst is predictable only in its destructiveness.

“There was no meaning in it,” one person who withstood the waters in India’s Himalayas told a Public Radio International reporter. “It didn’t give anyone a chance to survive.”

Christian Huggel, a professor at the University of Zurich in Switzerland who specializes in glaciology and geomorphodynamics (the study of changing forms of geologic surfaces), said thousands of cubic meters of water moving down a mountain “is really quite destructive and it can happen suddenly.”

That water comes from glacial lake outburst floods, or GLOFs, which are increasing in frequency as climate change increases the rate of glacial melting. This catastrophic lake drainage occurs wherever there are glaciers in places such as Peru and Alaska.

Himalaya, Lakes, Global Warming
The retreating ice of the Pastoruri glacier is seen in the Huascaran National Park in Huaraz, Peru, Aug. 12, 2016. The melting of glaciers has put cities like Huaraz at risk of what scientists call a “glof,” or glacial lake outburst flood. VOA

The most devastating GLOFs occur in the Himalayan regions of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal and the Tibetan Plateau. When combined, the area has the third-largest accumulation of snow and ice after Antarctica and the Arctic.

Melting glaciers

In the Himalayas, climate change melted glaciers by a vertical foot and half of ice each year from 2000 to 2016, according to a study released in June’s Science Advances by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.

That is twice the rate of melting from 1975 to 2000.

Also Read- Passive Presence of a Romantic Partner Can Reduce Pain: Researchers

Local people have noticed the change. In a 2016 interview from the Everest basecamp, Dr. Nima Namgyal Sherpa told VOA that in the past, the glacial streams in the mid-Everest region started flowing in May, but the Sherpas now see the flow beginning in April.

That melted snowpack seeps down to fill mountainside indentations to form glacial lakes. As global warming accelerates the melting, the lakes are expanding, as is their number and threat, monitored in some areas with automated sensors and manual early warning systems by army and police personnel with communication gear.

“Bigger lakes may increase the risk of catastrophic dam failure,” Joseph Shea, a glacier hydrologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, told the magazine Science.

Today, there are more than a thousand glacial lakes on the Tibetan Plateau, with more than 130 larger than 0.1 square kilometer in Nepal alone. The lakes threaten the livelihoods and lives of tens of thousands of people who live in some of the world’s most remote areas.

Himalaya, Lakes, Global Warming
When a “Himalayan tsunami” roars down from the rooftop of the world, water from an overflowing glacial lake obeys gravity. Pixabay

On June 12, 2016, a GLOF near Mount Everest sent 2 million cubic meters of water toward the Nepalese village of Chukhung, which lost just one outhouse to the torrents, in part because scientists warned residents in the area about the approaching danger.

Weeks later, on July 5, a GLOF near the village of Chaku registered on seismometers, which had been installed after an earthquake the year before, as a “huge pulse of energy,” Kristen Cook, a geologist at the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences, told EOS, an online site that covers earth and space science news.

Examining satellite images, Cook and her colleagues found the GLOF moved boulders as large as 6 meters in diameter.

Early warning systems 

Also Read- This is How Your Brain Senses an itch

This year, on July 7, a GLOF early warning system of weather monitoring stations and river discharge sensors saved lives in Pakistan’s Golain Valley, which has more than 50 glaciers and nine glacial lakes.

The event destroyed villages, roads and bridges, but there were no reported deaths. A shepherd located upstream from the valley called authorities to report the burst, which gave communities downstream as much as an hour to evacuate.

“Our standing crops [and] apple and apricot orchards have been completely destroyed,” Safdar Ali, whose shop was heavily damaged as the water swept away livestock, stored grain, irrigation channels and micro hydropower plants, told Reuters.

“I see no loss of human life this time as a positive,” Amanullah Khan, assistant country director for the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) told Reuters. “It shows our training has been a success.”

The UNDP program, which helped establish flood protection systems in the area starting in 2011, has installed small-scale drainage systems and mini-dams, and taught people in the remote region survival skills, such as simple first aid, because the arrival of skilled emergency help can be delayed by the rugged topography.

The International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and other international groups are setting up early warning systems for glacial lakes in Nepal.

Local governments are taking preventive measures, such as removing loose rocks and debris that make the bursts of water even more destructive. Authorities are also draining glacial lakes to reduce the amount of water released by a breach, and they are discouraging settlement in GLOF hazard zones.

“If the lakes burst above the villages up in the Everest area, up between 12,000 to 13,000 feet, there are villages all the way downstream and they will wipe [away] some of these villages,” said Norbu Tenzin Norgyal, whose father, Sherpa Tenzin Norgyal, summited Mount Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953. “The danger is real.” (VOA)

Next Story

Sea Voyage ‘Energized’ My Climate Fight: Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg tells her supporters that sea voyage 'energized' her climate change fight

0
Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg is a young climate activist from Sweden. Wikimedia Commons

Climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in Portugal on Tuesday after a three-week voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, telling cheering supporters that the journey had “energized” her for the fight against climate change.

The Swedish teen, whose one-woman protests outside the Swedish parliament helped inspire a global youth movement, sailed into the port of Lisbon after making a last-minute dash back from the United States to attend this year’s U.N. climate conference.

Thunberg has been steadfast in her refusal to fly because of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by planes, a stance that put her planned appearance at the meeting in doubt when the venue was moved from Chile to Spain a month ago.

“We’ve all been on quite an adventure,” Thunberg told reporters shortly after stepping off the catamaran La Vagabonde, on which she’d hitched a ride back home to Europe. “It feels good to be back.”

Thunberg’s appearances at past climate meetings have won her plaudits from some leaders – and criticism from others who’ve taken offense at the angry tone of her speeches.

“I think people are underestimating the force of angry kids,'” Thunberg said. “If they want us to stop being angry, then maybe they should stop making us angry.”

The 16-year-old said she planned to spend several days in the Portuguese capital before heading to Madrid, where delegates from nearly 200 countries are discussing how to tackle global warming.

“We will continue the fight there to make sure that within those walls the voices of the people are being heard,” she said.

Climate acitivist Greta Thunberg
Climate activist Greta Thunberg waves as she arrives in Lisbon aboard the sailboat La Vagabonde. VOA

The white 48-foot (15-meter) yacht carrying Thunberg, her father Svante, an Australian family and professional sailor Nikki Henderson sailed into Lisbon amid blue skies, with a small flotilla of boats escorting it to harbor.

Her trip contrasted with the many air miles flown by most of the U.N. meeting’s 25,000 attendees.

Thunberg wanted a low-carbon form of transport to get to the climate meeting, which was switched at short notice to Spain from Chile due to unrest there.

The yacht leaves little or no carbon footprint when its sails are up, using solar panels and hydro-generators for electricity.

“I am not traveling like this because I want everyone to do so,” said Thunberg. “I’m doing this to sort of send the message that it is impossible to live sustainable today, and that needs to change. It needs to become much easier.”

She said bringing her critical message to political leaders can feel awkward. “I feel strange when I get applauded by people in power … because it’s obvious that it’s them I’m criticizing but they can’t show that in front of the cameras,” she said. “It’s quite funny sometimes.”

Looking ahead to next year’s presidential election in the United States, Thunberg said: “I just hope that someone wins that can think on the long term, not just the short term.”

Chile’s Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt, saluted Thunberg’s role speaking out about the threat of climate change.

“She has been a leader that has been able to move and open hearts for many young people and many people all over the world,” Schmidt told The Associated Press at the summit in Madrid.

“We need that tremendous force in order to increase climate action,” she said.

Near to the conference, some 20 activists cut off traffic in central Madrid and staged a brief theatrical performance to protest climate change.

Members of the international group called Extinction Rebellion held up a banner in Russian that read: “Climate Crisis. To speak the truth. To take action immediately.”

Some activists jumped into a nearby fountain while others threw them life jackets. They chanted: “What Do We Want? Climate Justice.”

Portugal Greta Thunberg
Climate activist Greta Thunberg holds a sign reading ‘School strike for the climate’ after arriving in Lisbon, aboard the sailboat La Vagabonde. VOA

Others dressed in red robes with their faces whitened to symbolize the human species’ peril danced briefly before police moved in to end the protest.

Meanwhile, the U.N. weather agency released a new report showing that the current decade is likely to set a new 10-year temperature record, providing mounting evidence that the world is getting ever hotter.

Preliminary temperature measurements show the years from 2015 to 2019 and from 2010 to 2019 “are, respectively, almost certain to be the warmest five-year period and decade on record,” the World Meteorological Organization said.

“Since the 1980s, each successive decade has been warmer than the last,” the agency said.

While full-year figures aren’t released until next March, 2019 is also expected to be the second or third warmest year since measurements began, with 2016 still holding the all-time temperature record, it said.

Also Read- Carbon Dioxide Emissions Rising Rapidly: Global Carbon Project Estimate

This year was hotter than average in most parts of the world, including the Arctic. “In contrast a large area of North America has been colder than the recent average,” the U.N. said.

The World Meteorological Organization’s annual report, which brings together data from numerous national weather agencies and research organizations, also highlighted the impacts of climate change including declining sea ice and rising sea levels, which reached their highest level this year since high-precision measurements began in 1993. (VOA)