Glacial Lakes in Indian Himalayas Rapidly Expanding, Heightening Flood Risks

Glacial Lakes in Indian Himalayas Rapidly Expanding, Heightening Flood Risks

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has revealed through extensive satellite analysis spanning from 1984 to 2023 that glaciers across the Indian Himalayan region are undergoing alarming rates of melting, leading to significant growth in glacial lakes. This phenomenon, driven by climate change, poses critical challenges for freshwater resources and the safety of communities downstream.

Over this period, 676 glacial lakes larger than 10 hectares have notably expanded, with 130 of these lakes situated within India's river basins. The Indus basin alone accounts for 65 growing lakes, while the Ganga basin has seven and the Brahmaputra basin has 58. The expansion is particularly striking, with 601 lakes more than doubling in size, 10 lakes growing by 1.5 to 2 times, and 65 lakes expanding by 1.5 times.

The majority of these expanding lakes are categorized as Moraine-dammed (307 lakes) and Erosion (265 lakes), along with other types like Ice-dammed (8 lakes). An illustrative case is the Ghepang Ghat lake in Himachal Pradesh, which has expanded by 178% from 36.49 to 101.3 hectares between 1989 and 2022, growing at a rate of nearly 2 hectares per year.

The rise in glacial lake sizes, notably at higher elevations, underscores the significant environmental transformations underway. However, this phenomenon also underscores the heightened risk of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), posing severe threats to communities downstream. This research underscores the urgent need for heightened awareness and proactive measures to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the vulnerable Himalayan region.

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