Sleepless in Sikkim – Threat of glacial lake outburst looms large

The Statesman

Kolkata, 30 July
Villagers in Sikkim are now spending sleepless nights as the threat of Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) looms large over the eastern Himalayas.
Experts to common people in Sikkim fear the worst after the flood in Uttrakhand claimed lives of over 10,000 people. Fifty-year-old Tashi of Thangu Village said that they are apprehending floods in the area with the Shako Cho lake, 12 km northeast of his village, where the small tributary river from the lake discharges into Teesta River, flowing unnaturally. “It was the water from Milam Glacier that caused damaged in Pithoragarh,” says Mr Gajendra Rawat, a resident of Askot Village, downstream the Kali River.
Experts, too, believe that the situation is very vulnerable in Sikkim and government should make necessary arrangements to activate an early warning system. “A glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) occurs when the dam containing a glacial lake fails. Risk of GLOF in Sikkim is very high as it is surrounded by potentially-dangerous glacial lake that can burst and cause floods any time,” said Mr AV Kulkarni, Divecha Centre for Climate Change. What makes things worse is the delay in installing early warning systems for flash floods despite the National Disaster Management guidelines on floods setting 2009 as the deadline, he added.  Studies confirm that many glaciers of the Eastern Himalaya are forming glacial lakes with increasing intensity, which in fact is corroborated with the intermediate effects of long-term climate change by majority of scientists. According to Binay Kumar and T S Murugesh Prabhu of Pune-based Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), monitoring and tracking of the lakes in west and north Sikkim has revealed that quite a few of them are expanding due to accelerated glacial retreat and melting due to climate change impacts. The lakes have been increasing in size and volume since 1965. Their area has increased significantly in the past 45 years and indicating a near disaster. This also points at the climatic variations in the past three decades. In addition, new lakes have also developed due to glacier retreat and melting. As they retreat, glaciers leave behind moraines (accumulation of boulders, stones or other debris) in the valley


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