Flooding In Glacial Lakes Could Affect 3 Million Indians, Highest In The World, Says New Study

Tuesday, February 7, was the second anniversary of the flash floods in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district that killed nearly 80 people and left many more missing. 

It is believed that the devastating flash flood was caused by a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier breaking off, resulting in a glacial lake outburst flood.

AFP/ File

Two years later, the affected areas and people are yet to recover from the devastation left behind.

3 million Indians will be affected 

Now, a new international study has said that some three million Indians are at risk of flooding caused by glacial lakes, the highest number in the world.

The study by an international team led by scientists at UK’s Newcastle University is said to be the first global assessment of areas at greatest risk of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF).

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The findings of the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, estimate that 15 million people worldwide are at risk from flooding caused by glacial lakes.    

Out of this, India and Pakistan account for five million people who will be affected due to flooding caused by glacial lakes.

How glacial lakes are formed

As the climate gets warmer, glaciers retreat and meltwater collects at the front of the glacier, forming a lake, the study said.   

These lakes can suddenly burst and create a fast-flowing GLOF that can spread over a large distance from the original site — more than 120 kilometres in some cases.


GLOFs can be highly destructive, damage property, infrastructure & agricultural land and lead to significant loss of life.

Number of glacial lakes increasing

The number of glacial lakes has proliferated since 1990 as a result of climate change. At the same time, the number of people living in these catchments has also increased significantly. 

 The research team looked at 1,089 glacial lake basins worldwide, the number of people living within 50 kilometres of them, the level of development in those areas, and other social indicators as markers of vulnerability to GLOFs.

Why the study is important 

“This work highlights that it’s not the areas with the largest number or most rapidly growing lakes that are most dangerous… Instead, it is the number of people, their proximity to a glacial lake and importantly, their ability to cope with a flood that determines the potential danger from a GLOF event,” lead researcher Caroline Taylor, a doctoral student at Newcastle University, said in a statement.  


“Understanding which areas face the greatest danger from glacial flooding will allow for more targeted and effective risk management actions, which in turn will help minimise loss of life and damage to infrastructure downstream as a result of this significant natural hazard,” said Rachel Carr, head of physical geography at Newcastle University and a co-author of the study.

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