Reducing Climate Change Induced Risks and Vulnerabilities from Glacial Lake Outburst Floods

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > Southern Asia > Bhutan

Asia/Pacific > Southern Asia > Bhutan > Wangdi province

Change in glacier between 1984 and 1999. Bhutan.
© WWF Bhutan

Summary

The project aims to address threats posed to Bhutan by climate change. It will focus on the most significant impact, namely the formation of glacial lakes and the risk of glacial lake outburst flooding (GLOF).

Project activities will integrate climate risk into current disaster risk management practices, with practical measures which aim to reduce the risks associated with specific glacial lakes.

Background

The most significant climate change impact in Bhutan is the formation of glacial lakes. As global warming causes glaciers to melt more rapidly, glacial lakes are getting bigger, increasing the risk of a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF).

This poses a serious threat to people and nature in the high mountains and lower downstream. Glacial lakes are surrounded by moraines that act as natural walls. They can withstand only a certain amount of water pressure. When the pressure is too great, the moraine wall breaks and a huge volume of water and debris are unleashed, causing a massive GLOF.

In South Asia, particularly in the Himalayan region, the frequency of the occurrence of GLOF events has increased in the second half of the 20th century, with the an inevitable toll on lives, property and infrastructure.

The project will integrate climate risk projections into existing disaster risk management practices and implement corresponding capacity development measures. Actions will focus on demonstrative and practical measures for reducing climate change-induced GLOF risks from the potentially dangerous Thorthormi glacier lake. The lessons learned will facilitate replication in other high risk GLOF areas, both within and outside Bhutan.

In addition, the project will ensure that the existing early warning system in the Punakha-Wangdi Valley, which is not equipped to handle the full extent of potential GLOF risks, is expanded to incorporate this growing risk. Lessons learned from this initiative will enable up-scaling of early warning systems in other disaster-prone areas downstream of potentially hazardous glacier lakes.

Objectives

Reduce climate change-induced glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) risk in Punakha-Wangdue and Chamkhar valleys in Bhutan.

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