News reports about glacial lakes developing serious cracks and heightened possibility of glacial lake outburst flooding (GLOF) in the aftermath of the April 25 earthquake made big headlines. Consequently, the government deployed monitoring teams to the mountains.
However, a recent survey of the affected Himalayan region has dismissed any possibility of GLOF. The survey conducted by a team of experts deployed by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM), boldly proclaims that the glacial lakes are out of danger.
The report was made public during a press meet held at the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology (MoSTE) on June 21. Making a presentation on the report, Director General of DHM, Rishi Ram Sharma said the recent quakes have caused no serious damage to the glacial lakes.
“After being alarmed of the situation, we paid field visits to the respective districts and found no serious damage. For now, there is no danger of GLOF. Some of the issues were raised unnecessarily and sensitized,” said Sharma.
Concerns over the condition of two critically vulnerable glacial lakes — Tsho Rolpa in Dolkha and Imja in Solukhambu — had grown after rumors that the rivers in the area had swollen due to GLOF. The situation had turned more serious after news reports about discovery of deep and wide cracks near Tsho-Rolpa lake made headlines.
Monitoring of the two vulnerable glacial lakes were done on June 13, 15 and 16 simultaneously by a three-member team led by Sharma. Sharma however, said the series of strong jolts have caused a few minor cracks in the lakes.
“Imja lake is fine. We found no trace of damage in the region. However, some minor cracks were found near Tsho Rolpa glacial lake but they are not serious,” said Sharma.
The cracks were found on a pile of debris near one of the DHM stations near the edge of the lake. Sharma explained that the cracks are on a shallow portion near the lake and they pose no threat.
“Next to Tsho Rolpa lies a small hill and a small landslide has left its trace on it. As per our assessment, they do not pose any immediate threat of GLOF,” said Sharma.
On June 10, fear of a GLOF had scared the locals when the water level in the Dudhkoshi River rose 48 meters within an hour. GLOF was the first guess as it had not rained on that day. However, after an investigation, it was found that the water was from one of the many glacial lakes above Hongu VDC.
“It was not GLOF but overflow of water from glacial ponds formed at Hongu VDC,” said Chief of Flood Forecasting Division at DHM, Rajendra Sharma.
This is not the first time that overflowing of glacial ponds have been mistaken for GLOF. In one recent incident, on March 25 when supra glacial lake overflowed near Everest Base Camp, it had caused panic in the area.
According to Rijan Bhakta Kayasta, senior geologist and assistant professor at Kathmandu University, there are many glacial ponds in the mountains and near the glacial lakes and there is an instant need to study them.
“Glacial ponds are formed from the debris and melting of glaciers but our research studied only the major glaciers and glacial lakes. In order to understand such recent puzzling phenomena, there is an instant need to turn our focus on these small glacial ponds as well,” said Kayasta.
As per the report of the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), there are 2,323 glacial lakes across the Himalayan region in Nepal. Out of them, 21 have been categorized as critically vulnerable.