Glacier lakes swollen by global warming threaten millions

Wednesday, Feb 08, 2023

PARIS: Violent flooding from glacier lakes formed or enlarged by climate change threatens at least 15 million people worldwide, most of them in four countries, researchers said on Tuesday.

More than nine million people across so-called High Mountain Asia live in the path of potential glacial lake outburst floods, including five million in northern India and Pakistan, they reported in Nature Communications.

China and Peru are also especially exposed to the danger of abrupt flooding from melting glaciers, according to the study, the first global assessment of areas most at risk. The volume of lakes formed as glaciers worldwide disintegrate due to global warming has jumped by 50 percent in 30 years, according to a 2020 study based on satellite data. Earth´s average surface temperature has risen nearly 1.2 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times, but high-mountain regions around the world have warmed at twice that pace.

Glacier lakes are particularly unstable because they are most often dammed by ice or sediment composed of loose rock and debris. When accumulating water bursts through these accidental barriers, massive flooding can occur downstream. This kind of flooding has been responsible for thousands of deaths in the last century, as well as the destruction of communities, infrastructure and livestock.