Research Article

A massive rock and ice avalanche caused the 2021 disaster at Chamoli, Indian Himalaya

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Science  16 Jul 2021:
Vol. 373, Issue 6552, pp. 300-306
DOI: 10.1126/science.abh4455

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A deadly cascade

A catastrophic landslide in Uttarakhand state in India on February 2021 damaged two hydropower plants, and more than 200 people were killed or are missing. Shugar et al. describe the cascade of events that led to this disaster. A massive rock and ice avalanche roared down a Himalayan valley, turning into a deadly debris flow upstream from the first of the two hydropower plants. The sequence of events highlights the increasing risk in the Himalayas caused by increased warming and development.

Science, abh4455, this issue p. 300

Abstract

On 7 February 2021, a catastrophic mass flow descended the Ronti Gad, Rishiganga, and Dhauliganga valleys in Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India, causing widespread devastation and severely damaging two hydropower projects. More than 200 people were killed or are missing. Our analysis of satellite imagery, seismic records, numerical model results, and eyewitness videos reveals that ~27 × 106 cubic meters of rock and glacier ice collapsed from the steep north face of Ronti Peak. The rock and ice avalanche rapidly transformed into an extraordinarily large and mobile debris flow that transported boulders greater than 20 meters in diameter and scoured the valley walls up to 220 meters above the valley floor. The intersection of the hazard cascade with downvalley infrastructure resulted in a disaster, which highlights key questions about adequate monitoring and sustainable development in the Himalaya as well as other remote, high-mountain environments.

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