A glacier in the High Himalayas burst Sunday, unleashing a torrent of water and debris in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. Social media videos show a major river surge sweeping down mountain gorges that have killed at least 19 and washed away two hydroelectric dams with at least 180 people still missing. The glacier burst, on India’s second-highest mountain in the middle of February, is a clear symptom of climate change exacerbated by poorly planned dam construction.
Authorities said a piece of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off, releasing water trapped behind it. “This looks very much like a climate change event,” said Anjal Prakash, a professor at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad who serves on the IPCC, “the glaciers are melting due to global warming.” Glacial bursts can sometimes be caused by intense rainfall or earthquakes, but neither was the case here. “There is no doubt that global warming has resulted in the warming of the region,” said Farooq Azam, a specialist in glaciology and hydrology at the Indian Institute of Technology in Indore, noting the thermal profile of glacier ice is now as much as 32°F higher, making it more susceptible to melting.
Experts also questioned the construction of a dam precariously close to glaciers that are among the world’s least monitored and most vulnerable to warming. (CNN, Washington Post $, New York Times $, AP, News18, Times of India, Al Jazeera, Times Of India, ThirdPole; Climate Signals background: Glacier and ice sheet melt)