Project 672 - Himalayan glaciers: assessing risks to local communities from debris cover and lake changes using new satellite data

Brief outline of the project

In the high rugged Himalaya, the lower parts of glaciers are often covered by a thick layer of rock, dirt and gravel originating from the steep valley sides, creating so-­called “debris-­covered” tongues. Differential rates of ice melt create spectacular features such as ablation cones, ice cliffs and a myriad of supraglacial lakes. Some lakes disappear quickly; others grow and breach the moraine dam, triggering catastrophic floods with disastrous consequences for communities downstream.

There is high urgency in developing remote sensing tools to monitor these features in a timely manner, since fieldwork is difficult and surveys are generally scarce. We will use different types of satellite imagery combined with terrain analysis to characterize the surface features of these glaciers, to map their changes over time and to assess their potential for triggering hazards.

Our long-­term goal is to disseminate methodologies developed under this project via trainings and workshops to local institutions in high Asia and to embed scientific knowledge into local communities. Field campaigns will allow us to harvest local knowledge about past flood events and observed glacier changes. By combining the science with community involvement, we aim to understand the socio-­economic impacts of glacier hazards in high altitude areas where people live.

The co-leaders are from Bhutan and India with the participation of Sikkim University.

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