Scientific article

Recent catastrophic landslide lake outburst floods in the Himalayan mountain range

Published inProgress in Physical Geography, vol. 41, no. 1, p. 3-28
Publication date2017

Among the more complex and devastating interactions between climate and hydromorphological processes in mountain environments are landslide lake outburst floods (LLOFs), resulting from mass movements temporarily blocking a drainage system. This work reviews these processes in the Himalayas and highlights the high frequency of this type of phenomenon in the region. In addition, we analyse two recent catastrophic trans-national LLOFs occurring in the Sutlej river basin during 2000 and 2005. Based on high resolution satellite images, Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) derived evolution of snowline elevation and discharge data we reconstruct the timing and hydrometeorological conditions related to the formation and failure of landslide dams. Results showed that the 2005 flood, originating from the outburst of the Parchu Lake, was not related to heavy precipitation, but was likely enhanced by the rapid and late snowmelt of an unusually deep and widespread snowpack. The flood in 2000 was triggered by the outburst of an unnamed lake located on the Tibetan plateau, identified here for the first time. In this case, the outburst followed intense precipitation in the lake watershed, which raised the level of the lake and thus caused the breaching of the dam. As stream gauges were damaged during the events detailed discharge data is not available, but we estimated the peak discharges ranging between 1100 m3 s−1 and 2000 m3 s−1 in 2005, and 1024 m3 s−1 and 1800 m3 s−1 in 2000. These events caused significant geomorphic changes along the river valleys, with observed changes in channel width exceeding 200 m. Results also demonstrate that remotely-sensed data enables valuable large-scale monitoring of lake development and related hydrometeorological conditions, and may thereby inform early warning strategies, and provide a basis for flood risk reduction measures that focus on disaster preparedness and response strategies.

  • Extreme flood
  • Lake outburst
  • Landslide
  • Precipitation
  • Himalayas
Citation (ISO format)
RUIZ VILLANUEVA, Virginia et al. Recent catastrophic landslide lake outburst floods in the Himalayan mountain range. In: Progress in Physical Geography, 2017, vol. 41, n° 1, p. 3–28. doi: 10.1177/0309133316658614
ISSN of the journal0309-1333

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