It has only been a month since we entered 2021 after the dreadful 2020 and we can safely say that the start hasn’t been very bumpy. The start of second month, however, brought with itself devastating news for Uttarakhand with a massive flood in Dhauli Ganga river. This took place after a glacier broke off in Joshimath, near the Dhauliganga hydropower project. There has been a rescue mission going on ever since and a number of deaths have been encountered, with number increasing at a daily discovery rate. It is also deeply saddening to note that apart from deaths, the missing people toll is also touching new heights everyday since the glacial burst took place, leaving behind the people of Uttarakhand in great distress.
The reason for such an event can be accounted to a number of factors, in general, but the one in Uttarakhand was driven by a particular incident that took place about 2 days before the glacial burst happened. Particularly, an avalanche was reported 2 days before the breach and the authorities have been looking into it since. The incident that made people scared about the 201e incident being repeated again, was it a natural disaster or an aftermath of climate change, scientists are eager to figure out but aren’t very sure of. The sudden surge in water levels near the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand witnessed the realised prospect of large scale flooding and massive livelihood and capital destruction. Reports received by glaciologists referred to this phenomena as what is commonly termed the GLOF- the glacial lake outburst of flood, one that the state had never witnessed before. It basically explains the flooding to be caused by the breach in a glacial lake that resulted in the downstream.
But before we truly begin to understand the cause, it is important to know a little backstory to the scene. A proglacial lake is referred to the lakes at their tips that are formed due to retreating glaciers, as a re commonly found in the Himalayan regions. These proglacial lakes are only supported by sediments and boulders, making them a fall risk at any time. It is because if the breaching of these lake boundaries, which apparently are only sediments and boulders, can result in a large amount of water rushing down to nearby waster streams and rivers. This however gets even more harmful because the rushing water gains momentum due to the presence of sediments, rocks and other material, which combinedly act in resulting a flooding downstream. The advent of the glacial lake outburst of flood is an aftermath and determinant if the proglacial lake that bursts, determining the size and extent of the event. The breach turns even more destructive depending on the location in question.
With this information, it is to be noted that the cause for the Uttarakhand’s glacial burst is considered to be a phenomena driven by the proglacial lake and even though there are still questions around this possibility, it is being considered to be a potential trigger. The reason for this consideration, despite avalanches being common, is because an avalanche on its own couldn’t have been this powerful to have resulted in this increase of flow of water in the river. However, it is to be taken into account that the affected area doesn’t really have a considerate glacial lake and thus, the source is still a matter of concern. Speculations and predictions are well on its way but the real discovery could be given to the public eye only after a few days of through inspection, after the situation gets a little better.
Experts have also talked about the possibility of presence of a glacial lake, that the scientists don’t know about. This came into talks because of the fact that there are hundreds of such lakes all over the place. And even though scientists know about many of them, the possibility of not knowing about one cannot be ruled out, as is claimed by a number of glaciologists. Experts have been looking at the satellite images to gather more precise information on the matter. So it is hoped that higher resolution satellite images would help experts identify the presence of any such lake. However, there have been incidents of lakes being formed inside the glaciers, in which case the satellite would be incapable to detect in satellite images.
If you’re thinking experts have been adamant on the presence of a glacial lake despite no significant evidence, well, it is because if it isn’t for any proglacial lake, the event would seem to be a bit of surprise for the experts as well. Oh, and the surprise not only in terms of cause but also the timing. It is because a down rush, as large as this one, is not very prominent during this time of the year. In the words of Professor A P Dimri from School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, “Cloudburst would be a rare event during this time of the year. It does look like a GLOF event right now,” It is further assessed that the make shift dam like situation could also have been created by obstruction in the floe of the river or stream in upper mountains due to a landslide. Again, these are just possible causes and the real reason would take some time to be discovered. Nevertheless, we’re all ears.
Experts have started going down to the affected site to devise the actual cause. But no matter what the results come out to be, it cannot be denied that our ecosystem has turned more fragile than ever and the effects of climate change can not be felt at a real level. Even though a sign of direct connection with construction related activities or presence of dams can’t be located, the presence of climate change’s impact and thus, proglacial lakes, is one prominent area that needs attention. It is about time we start seeing the impact and introspect our activities, for our environment is being destroyed, and before it’s too late to save it, we need to change, for better.