Risk From Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs)

Question : Discuss the risks associated with Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) as highlighted by recent developments in Uttarakhand.


In the News

  • Uttarakhand government formed expert teams to assess risks from five glacial lakes prone to GLOFs.

What are GLOFs?

  • GLOFs are sudden floods caused by the release of water from glacial lakes.
  • Glacial lakes form as glaciers melt, leaving depressions that fill with water.
  • Larger lakes pose a greater danger.

Causes of GLOFs

  • Glacial calving (ice chunks falling into the lake) can displace water, triggering floods.
  • Avalanches or landslides can destabilize lake boundaries, causing sudden water release.
  • Increased glacial melt due to rising global temperatures is a major concern.
  • Infrastructure development in vulnerable areas can worsen GLOF impacts.

Impacts of GLOFs

  • Large volumes of water, sediment, and debris can travel downstream with destructive force.
  • Floods can inundate valleys, destroy infrastructure (roads, bridges, buildings), and cause loss of life and property.
  • Recent years have seen several GLOF disasters in the Himalayas.

Geographical Distribution

  • GLOFs occur in glacial regions, especially the Himalayas, Andes, and Alps.
  • Since 1980, GLOFs have become more frequent in the Himalayas, particularly near the China-Nepal border.
  • India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) identified 188 potentially dangerous glacial lakes in the Himalayas.
    • 13 of these lakes are in Uttarakhand.

Suggestions for Mitigating GLOF Risks

  • Improve understanding of glacier and glacial lake dynamics.
  • Analyze past GLOF events to assess future risks and plan mitigation strategies.
  • Utilize satellite imagery and remote sensing to monitor glacial lakes.
  • Develop and communicate emergency preparedness plans for at-risk communities.


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