WASHINGTON, Feb. 7 (AP) — Fifteen million people around the world are living under the threat of sudden and deadly flooding as glaciers melt and pour water into nearby lakes, a new study finds.
According to a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, more than half of the people living in the shadow of the catastrophe, known as the Glacial Lake Burst Flood, live in just four countries: India, Pakistan, Peru and China . A second study, awaiting publication in a peer-reviewed journal, cataloged more than 150 glacial flood outbursts, both historical and recent.
Read also | Shihab Bhai from Kerala entered Pakistan to complete his trek to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj (see pictures and video).
It’s a threat Americans and Europeans rarely consider, but the study calculates that 1 million people live within just 6 miles (10 kilometers) of potentially unstable glacial lakes.
An even more destructive flood occurred in Peru in 1941, killing between 1,800 and 6,000 people. A glacial lake outburst flood in British Columbia, Canada, in 2020 triggered a tsunami about 330 feet (100 meters) high, but no one was injured.
Read also | Turkey Earthquake: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency in 10 quake-affected provinces.
German climbers captured on video the 2017 glacier floods caused by landslides in Nepal. According to the study’s lead author, Caroline Taylor, a researcher at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier has been flooded every year since 2011 by small outbursts in what the National Weather Service calls a “suicide basin.”
The combination of heavy rains and glacial lake outburst floods in India in 2013 killed thousands. Later research found that the glacial lake outburst was not the cause of the deadly 2021 floods in India that were originally attributed to the outburst.
So far, climate change doesn’t appear to be making these floods more frequent, scientists say, but as glaciers shrink due to warming and lakes hold more water, making them more dangerous in the rare event a dam breaks.
“We’ve had glacial lake burst floods in the past, and one catastrophic flood event killed thousands of people,” said study co-author Tom Robinson, a disaster risk scientist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. The climate is changing, the glaciers are melting, so these lakes are getting bigger and potentially more unstable.”
Dan Shugar, a geoscientist at the University of Calgary who was not involved in either study, said the threat depends largely on just how many people live in glacial flood zones.
“In a warming world, we certainly expect more and larger glacial lakes,” Shugar said in an email. “But the threat these lakes might pose depends heavily on where people live and how vulnerable they might be.”
Robinson said his study is different in that it is the first to look at climate, geography, population, vulnerability and all of these factors to “get a comprehensive picture of the most at-risk areas in all 1,089 of the world’s glacier basins.”
Topping the list is Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Basin, north of Islamabad.
“It was particularly bad,” Robinson said. “A lot of people, they’re very, very vulnerable” because they live in the valley below the lake.
The problem, Robinson said, is that scientists have focused too much on Pakistan, India, China and the Himalayas (often referred to as the high mountains of Asia), while to some extent neglecting the Andes.
The second- and third-highest risk basins are in Peru’s Santa Basin and Bolivia’s Beni Basin, the newspaper said.
University of Dayton geology says the region is “leading the way” in responding to the threat of glacial flooding following the deadly Andes floods of the 1940s, but over the past decade or so alpine Asia has taken over Umesh Haritashya due to its large population Professor, who was not involved in the study.
India ranks high on the threat list not so much because of the physical environment, but because of “a large population downstream”.
Three lake basins from the Pacific Northwest to Alaska, the United States and Canada rank highly in threat, but are nowhere near as high as Asia and the Andes, where populations in the danger zone are small. They are located on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula—unlike the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau—in northeast Washington and west-central British Columbia.
“This ranking is a good checklist for further research,” said Oliver Korup of the University of Potsdam in Germany, who co-authored the Inventory of Glacial Lake Burst Floods. (Associated Press)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)