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Melting glaciers can lead to flooding. The “inland tsunami” threatens millions of people

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Flash floods from glacial lakes threaten 15 million people worldwide, scientists warn. The threat arises when too much water accumulates in such a lake as a result of the melting of the glacier. As a result of climate change and the rising global temperature in the world, this is happening more and more often.

Glaciers around the world are melting at an alarming rate. This is one of the most visible signs of the climate crisis. According to research by the American Carnegie Mellon University, the results of which were published in January, glaciers lose much more and contribute more to sea level rise in the ice world than previously thought. As a result, half of the Earth’s glaciers could disappear by the end of the century, even if ambitious goals to combat climate change and global temperature rise, including a shift away from fossil fuels, are met, scientists warn.

WITH UNESCO report Some of the world’s most famous glaciers, including those in the Italian Dolomites, the US national parks of Yosemite and Yellowstone, and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, could be missing in the next 30 years.

Glacial lakes – how the threat arises

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Melting glaciers leave behind huge reservoirs of water that fill the resulting depressions, creating the so-called glacial lakes.

With the melting of successive fragments of glaciers, the level of such lakes rises, and this means increasing danger to nearby inhabited areas. If there is too much water in such a lake, at some point it can be released, and its excess together with the rocks can flow down, leading to sudden, powerful floods. Such a phenomenon is known in English as Glacial Lake OutBurst Floods (GLOF), which can be translated as a flood eruption from a glacial lake.

Read also: Will the next pandemic be caused by melting glaciers? Scientists have disturbing information

15 million people at risk of “explosive” floods

According to research by scientists from the University of Newcastle, published in the journal Nature Communications, 15 million people around the globe who live within 50 kilometers of glacial lakes are at risk of such events. More than half of them live in four countries – India, Pakistan, Peru and China.

As indicated in the article, the high mountain area covering parts of China, Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is the most vulnerable. It is the region with the most snow and glacial ice outside the polar regions of the globe. The people living in it live closest to the glacial lakes, with about a million – at a distance of up to 10 km from them.

This is the first study to estimate how large a global population could be affected by the breaking of glacial lakes.

Glacier lake in BhutanShutterstock

Communities at risk

Pakistan has more glaciers than anywhere else in the world, excluding the polar regions. Last year alone, there were at least 16 cases of GLOF in the Pakistani-held Gilgit-Baltistan area of ​​Kashmir. In previous years, there were five or six such events a year, experts point out.

The authors of the study emphasized that these phenomena are equally likely in the Andes region of South America. They noted that over the past two decades, glaciers in the Andes have been melting rapidly as a result of negative climate change, creating huge lakes and increasing the risk of flooding.

According to Tom Robinson, co-author of the study from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, floods caused by the melting of glaciers in the mountains of North America and in the Alps – even if there is a high risk of their occurrence – are associated with a statistically lower risk, because the areas near the glaciers there are less populated.

The glacier dams are letting go

Robinson described the GLOF phenomenon as an “inland tsunami” and likened it to the sudden collapse of a dam. “Glacier dams are no different from man-made dams,” he explained to CNN.

Arctic glaciers melting PAP/Adam Ziemienowicz

This type of flood usually occurs unexpectedly. The previous ones caused thousands of deaths and severe damage. The White Cordillera, a mountain range in Peru, is one of the flashpoints for such phenomena. Since 1941, there have been more than 30 glacier-related disasters in the area – from avalanches to GLOFs – claiming over 15,000 lives.

CNN, nature.com, nsidc.org, tvnmeteo.pl

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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