16 Dec 2020

16 Dec 2020

Review status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Controls of outbursts of moraine-dammed lakes in the greater Himalayan region

Melanie Fischer1, Oliver Korup1,2, Georg Veh1, and Ariane Walz1 Melanie Fischer et al.
  • 1Institute of Environmental Science and Geography, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, 14476, Germany
  • 2Institute of Geosciences, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, 14476, Germany

Abstract. Glacial lakes in the Hindu-Kush Karakoram Himalaya Nyainqentanglha (HKKHN) have grown rapidly in number and area in past decades, and some dozens have drained in catastrophic glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). Estimating hazard from glacial lakes has largely relied on qualitative assessments and expert judgment, thus motivating a more systematic and quantitative appraisal. Before the backdrop of current climate-change projections and the potential of elevation-dependent warming, an objective and regionally consistent assessment is urgently needed. We use a comprehensive inventory of 3,390 moraine-dammed lakes and their documented outburst history in the past four decades to test whether elevation, lake area and its rate of change, glacier-mass balance, and monsoonality are useful inputs to a probabilistic classification model. We use these candidate predictors in four Bayesian multi-level logistic regression models to estimate the posterior susceptibility to GLOFs. We find that mostly larger lakes have been more prone to GLOFs in the past four decades, largely regardless of elevation band in which they occurred. We also find that including the regional average glacier-mass balance improves the model classification. In contrast, changes in lake area and monsoonality play ambiguous roles. Our study provides first quantitative evidence that GLOF susceptibility in the HKKHN scales with lake area, though less so with its dynamics. Our probabilistic prognoses offer some improvement with respect to a random classification based on average GLOF frequency. Yet they also reveal some major uncertainties that have remained largely unquantified previously and that challenge the applicability of single models. Ensembles of multiple models could be a viable alternative for more accurately classifying the susceptibility of moraine-dammed lakes to GLOFs.

Melanie Fischer et al.

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Melanie Fischer et al.

Model code and software

GLOFsusceptibility: First release of the GLOF susceptibility model (Version v.1.0) Melanie Fischer, Oliver Korup, Georg Veh, and Ariane Walz

Melanie Fischer et al.


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Short summary
Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) in the greater Himalayan region threaten local communities and infrastructure. We assess this hazard objectively using fully data-driven models. We find that lake and catchment area as well as regional glacier-mass balance credibly raised the susceptibility of a glacial lake in our study area to produce a sudden outburst. However, our models hardly support the widely held notion that rapid lake growth increases GLOF hazard.