Himalayan glacier disaster highlights climate change risks

NEW DELHI: When Ravi Chopra noticed the devastating deluge of water and particles crash downstream from a Himalayan glacier on Sunday (Feb 7), his first thought was that this was precisely the state of affairs that his group had warned the Indian authorities of in 2014.

At least 31 individuals have died, 165 individuals are missing and plenty of are feared to have died. The deluge first smashed right into a small dam, gathering extra power because it grew heavier from the particles it collected alongside the way in which. Then, it smashed into a bigger, under-construction dam and gathered much more power.

Chopra and different specialists had been tasked by India’s Supreme Court to check the influence of receding glaciers on dams. They had warned that warming attributable to climate change was melting the Himalayan glaciers and facilitated avalanches and landslides, and that setting up dams within the fragile ecosystem was harmful.

“They were clearly warned, and yet they went ahead,” mentioned Chopra, director of the non-profit People’s Science Institute.

Scientists had first suspected {that a} glacial lake had burst on Sunday. After inspecting satellite tv for pc photos, they now consider {that a} landslide and avalanche have been the extra possible causes of the disaster. 

It is not clear whether or not the landslide induced an avalanche of ice and particles, or whether or not falling ice resulted within the landslide, mentioned Mohammad Farooq Azam, who research glaciers on the Indian Institute of Technology at Indore.

What is understood is that mass of rock, boulders, ice and snow got here crashing down a 2-kilometre close to vertical mountain slope on Sunday. And now scientists try to determine if the warmth produced attributable to friction could be sufficient to soften the snow and ice to outcome within the flood of water, he mentioned.

Experts say that the disaster underscores the fragility of the Himalayan mountains the place the lives of hundreds of thousands are being altered by climate change.

Even if the world meets its most formidable climate change targets, rising temperatures will soften away a 3rd of the Himalayan glaciers by the top of the century, a 2019 report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development discovered. Himalayan glaciers are melting twice as quick since 2000 as they have been within the 25 years earlier than attributable to human-caused climate change, researchers reported in Science Advances in 2019.

Whether this explicit disaster was attributable to climate change is not identified. But climate change can enhance landslides and avalanches. As glaciers soften attributable to warming, valleys that have been earlier filled with ice open up, creating area for landslides to maneuver into. In different locations, steep mountainous slopes could also be partially “glued” collectively by ice frozen tightly inside its crevices.

“As warming occurs and the ice melts, the pieces can move downhill more easily, lubricated by the water,” defined Richard B Alley, a professor of earth sciences at Pennsylvania State University.

India Glacier Flooding

A view of the stays of Tapovan Hydro-Electric Power Dam that was swept away after a part of a Himalayan glacier broke off Sunday sending a devastating flood downriver in Tapovan space of the northern state of Uttarakhand, India, on Feb 9, 2021. (Photo: AP/Rishabh R. Jain)


With warming, ice can also be primarily changing into much less frozen: Earlier its temperature would vary between -6 levels Celsius to -20 levels Celsius and it it’s now -2 levels Celsius,, mentioned Azam. The ice continues to be frozen, however is nearer to its melting level, so it takes much less warmth to set off an avalanche than some many years in the past, added Azam.

Another menace is that of a glacial lake bursting – what some first suspected was the reason for Sunday’s disaster. The hazard posed by these increasing lakes cannot be ignored, mentioned Joerg Michael Schaefer, a climate scientist who specialises in ice and particularly Himalayan glaciers at Columbia University.

The water the lakes launch into rivers comprise the power equal to “several nuclear bombs” and might present clear, carbon-free power via hydropower initiatives, Schaefer mentioned. But it is harmful to arrange energy crops with out wanting uphill and mitigating the danger by siphoning water from the lakes to regulate ranges, he mentioned.

“The brute force of these things just kind of just really mind blowing,” especially if they break, he said. “You cannot tame that tiger. You have to prevent that.”

The Uttarakhand state authorities mentioned it frequently confronted “acute power shortage” and was pressured to spend US$137 million every year to purchase electrical energy, paperwork submitted to India’s Supreme Court present. 

The state has the second-highest potential for producing hydropower in India, however specialists say that photo voltaic power and wind power supplied extra sustainable and fewer dangerous options within the long-run.

Development was wanted for the upliftment of the impoverished area, however specialists mentioned such initiatives ought to have in mind the ecological fragility of the mountains and the unpredictable risks posed by climate change.

For occasion, throughout the 2009 building of the second dam that obtained hit by flood water on Sunday, employees unintentionally punctured an aquifer. Enough water for two million to three million individuals to drink drained out on the charge of as much as 70 million litres (18.5 million gallons) every single day for a month and villages within the space confronted water shortages.

Development plans have to “go along with the environment” and never towards it, mentioned Anjal Prakash, a professor on the Indian School of Business who has contributed to analysis into the impacts of climate change within the Himalayas for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Climate change is here and now. It is not something that is going to happen later on,” he mentioned.

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