As glaciers melt due to global warming, lakes fill with more water, which increases their danger in the rare instances when dams fail.
Fifteen million people worldwide are in constant danger of a sudden and deadly outburst flood as glaciers melt and release enormous amounts of water into surrounding lakes, according to a recent study.
The study, published in Nature Communications, states that more than half of those affected by the glacial lake outburst floods reside in only four nations: India, Pakistan, Peru, and China. In a second study that is still in the process of being peer-reviewed, more than 150 glacial flood outbreaks from the past and present are listed.
The study found that 1 million people reside just 10 kilometres from potentially unstable glacial-fed lakes, despite that, the threat is one that many people hardly ever consider.
Between 1,800 and 6,000 people died in one of the worst floods, which occurred in Peru in 1941. A 100-metre tsunami was brought on by a glacial lake outburst flood in British Columbia, Canada, in 2020, but no one was hurt.
German climbers recorded video of a glacial outburst flood that occurred in Nepal in 2017 that was caused by a landslide.
Caroline Taylor, a researcher at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom and the study’s lead author, claims that since 2011, the Mendenhall glacier in Alaska has experienced yearly minor glacial outburst floods in what the National Weather Service refers to as the “suicide basin.”
In 2013, thousands of people died in India as a result of a combination of heavy rains and a glacial lake outburst flood.
As glaciers recede due to global warming, lakes fill with more water, which increases their danger in the rare instances when dams fail.
“We had glacier lake outburst floods in the past that have killed many many thousands of people in a single catastrophic flooding event,” said study co-author Tom Robinson, a disaster risk scientist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, according to PBS.
“And with climate change glaciers are melting so these lakes are getting bigger, potentially getting more unstable.”
According to a recent study, the world’s glaciers are melting and shrinking faster than previously anticipated, with two-thirds of them expected to disappear by the end of the century if present climate change trends continue.
However, if the world can achieve its international targets and restrict future warming to just a few more tenths of a degree, which is technically feasible but very unlikely, then slightly less than half of the world’s glaciers will vanish.