Millions of People at Risk of Flooding Due to Climate Change, Research Finds
© ABDUL MAJEEDThis aerial picture taken on June 10, 2022, shows Passu glacier near Passu village in Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region.
© ABDUL MAJEED
A glacial lake is a lake formed by a melting ice caps which overlaps the glacier above the water recharge limit. Many such lakes are famous landmarks. However, a new study warns of the dangers lurking in them.
Glaciers are melting, exposing the lives of millions of people around the world to the risk of flash floods, according to a new study. Most of these people live in four countries - India, Pakistan, Peru and China, where glacial lakes are abundant and populations are vulnerable to climate disasters.
As temperatures rise, glaciers have increasingly retreated, prompting melted water to accumulate at glacier fronts. These lakes can suddenly break up, causing glacial lake outburst floods that can spread more than 120 kilometers from the original site.
The recent study details that climate change has led to a sharp increase in the number of glacial lakes since 1990. At the same time, the number of people living in these catchments has also increased significantly. Scientists studied 1,089 glacial lake basins around the world and assessed the ability of people in different regions to respond quickly to the threat of flooding.
"Our work does not just focus on the size or number of glacier lakes - no disaster is natural - it is the presence of people, especially vulnerable people, in the landscape that causes a disaster," said Stuart Dunning, a physical geographer at Britain's Newcastle University, and a co-author of the study, to US media.
The analysis showed that the areas of greatest risk are not those with the largest, most numerous or fastest-growing glacial lakes, as might be expected. Rather, the number of people in the region and their ability to cope with natural hazards is critical to their risk.
© Photo : Taylor, C., Robinson, T.R., Dunning, S. et al. / Glacial lake outburst floods threaten millions globallyGlobal distribution of GLOF exposure
Global distribution of GLOF exposure
© Photo : Taylor, C., Robinson, T.R., Dunning, S. et al. / Glacial lake outburst floods threaten millions globally
The results showed that 15 million people live within 50 kilometers of glacial lakes. Critically, high altitude Asia (from Kyrgyzstan to China) is at greatest risk of flooding, with perhaps 9.3 million people. There are about five million unprotected people in India and Pakistan alone.
The researchers say their methods could be used to monitor the risk of future glacial lake outburst floods.