“EVERETT, Wash. — The U.S. Geological Survey has decided to keep a closer eye on the slumbering giant in Snohomish County’s wild, scenic back yard. A new study in underway for Glacier Peak, one of the most dangerous but least monitored volcanoes in the country. Scientists are working to map Glacier Peak and the valleys and peaks to the west — about 482 square miles total — using Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR.”
“Jakobshavn Glacier is of interest because it is the fastest-moving glacier in the world and drains about 7.5 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Having a map of Jakobshavn’s bed has been a long-time goal of glaciologists. Byrd Glacier is also moving faster than average, but unlike many other glaciers, has been sounded in the past. Researchers mapped a previously unknown trench beneath Byrd Glacier and found that depth measurements from the 1970s were off by as much as a half mile in some places.”
“It may have been a man’s world in these parts more than a century ago, but Glacier’s history is also populated by some adventuresome and fascinating females. Bootlegger Josephine Doody may be the best known to locals, but the moonshine maker was hardly alone.”
Satellites are now allowing us to track the behavior of icy glacial lakes on the Himalayan Mountains–in particular the conditions that lead to glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), which have become increasingly frequent in the region over the past 20 years.
Researchers from the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment and the State Key Laboratory of Cryosphere Sciences in China published a study in PLOS One in December of last year that catalogued data from lakes in the central Himalayas between 1990 to 2010.
The scientists, Drs. Yong Nie, Qiao Liu, and Shiyin Liu, used images from Landsat scientific satellites to count and measure glacial lakes in the region. As the longest running remote sensing project, Landsat has over 40 years of images available across the globe.
GLOFs – floods that occur when a lake dammed by a glacier or glacial moraine is released – are hazardous to communities located at elevations below the burst lake. Flooding and debris flows damage infrastructure, cause property loss, and can take lives, as GlacierHub has reported in prior posts. It is widely believed that rising temperatures due to climate change and reduced albedo of the ice from cryoconite (also known as carbon dust particles) are melting the glaciers at higher rates and causing lake volumes to rise, which in turn increases the risk of GLOF events. But the specific processes that lead to GLOF outbursts are not well understood.
By looking at lakes at four time points (1990, 2000, 2005 and 2010), at different elevations (from 3,500 to 6,100 meters), of different types (pro-glacial and supraglacial), and of varying sizes, the researchers were able to identify which lakes expanded faster and burst more frequently to understand which ones pose the greatest risk of GLOFs.
Overall, it was found that total lake surface area for the 1,314 lakes in the central Himalayas had increased over the 20-year period. Drs. Nie, Liu and Liu found that more lakes on the northern side of the central Himalayan range were expanding rapidly. They also found that pro-glacial lakes (lakes at the terminus of a glacier) grew faster than supraglacial lakes (lakes on the surface of the glacier). Some pro-glacial lakes are connected directly to glaciers while others are not, but those that were connected grew far faster. Additionally, larger pro-glacial lakes were likely to flood sooner than smaller ones and more changes to glacial lakes occurred at the altitudes between 4,500 and 5,600 meters.
The dynamics of alpine glacial lakes are complex, but this study could help communities monitor lakes at high risk of flooding and to create early-warning systems and disaster preparedness plans.