In DepthNATURAL DISASTERS

Chile's glacial lakes pose newly recognized flood threat

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Science  10 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6329, pp. 1004-1005
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6329.1004

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  • RE: Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) risks must be dealt with urgently
    • Wang Shijin, State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences

    Scientists on Science magazine report and discuss the hazards of melting glaciers in succession (1, 2, 3, 4), in which the most serious impact is undoubtedly glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) disaster at the present stage. Rapid melting glaciers has led to the formation of plenty of new glacial lakes, the expansion of existing glacial lakes, and increased potential for GLOFs (5, 6, 7). More than 12, 700 glacial lakes and 300 potentially dangerous glacial lakes (PDGLs) have been identified in only the Hindu Kush–Himalaya, Chile's Patagonia and Peru's Cordillera Blanca (2, 8).
    Past GLOFs have been catastrophic. Since the literature was recorded in 1935, more than 30, 000 deaths have been caused by world-wide GLOFs (9, 10, 11). Classic examples of GLOFs are the bursting of Palcacocha lake, Peru Cordillera, in 1941; Cirenmaco lake, Chinese Himalaya, in 1981; Dig Tsho lake, Nepalese Himalaya, in 1985; Luggye Tso, Bhutan Himalaya, in 1994; and Recire lake, Chinese Nyainqêntanglha in 2013. Among them, at least 40 GLOFs have occurred in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau since 1935 (12). Huge disaster losses shows that the threat of GLOFs requires appropriate and continued attention well into the 21st century. Especially, during 1970s/01/01~2014/10/14 period, 191 earthquake events with over 6.0 magnitude occurred in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and its surroundings (E74.00°~108.00°; N24.00°~40.00°). The earthquake often compromised the stability of mountain slope, glacier and m...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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