Glacial bursts and flooding (GLOP) and dams in the Himalayas— what lies ahead?
… a literature synthesis
Yesterday morning we woke up with the news of a glaciar bursting in the Nanda Devi mountains in India and the subsequent glacial burst flooded a village and burst a dam in the Indian Himalayas. This led to loss of life of about 20 people and 200 people went missing. Sorry sights on TV. While this did not really make international headlines, the question would be whether this was expected or what is the likelihood of this occurring again?
Unfortunately, this was not unexpected. In all likelihood, this will occur again. We only do not know when and how. Glaciers are slow moving rivers and when glaciers retreat, they leave lakes surrounded by moraines that serve as natural dams. When we bound glacial rivers with dams, we create additional water storage and facilities that help us to generate electricity from the dammed water (hydel power projects). This is fine, except that in the creation of the dam and the process of generation of electricity, we play with the fragile ecosystem of a mountain and the glaciers. With increasing temperatures across the world as a result of global warming, you expect that the glaciers are going to melt and retreat. As they do so, they will release water; once the moraine boundaries give way, torrents of water and parts of glacier that break away from the parent glacier will flow down through the resulting river or increase the water level of the existing river.
So far so good. But if there are dams in the way, the rivers and the glaciers will wash them away. This happened with the Rani dam (the Rishiganga dam) in the Himalayas.
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