Analysis of Glacial Burst in Uttarakhand

The upper Himalayan region is full of high peaks, and glaciers that store a vast amount of water to sustain the Indus valley civilization, the Vedic era, and even modern society today. Little do we know that the Himalayas’ glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate due to pollution and global warming. Things only come to notice when disasters happen.

Glacier burst in Uttarakhand is not a common thing. It is impossible to happen in February when the glaciers are expanding, owing to fresh snowfall in the area. However, what happened in Joshimath, Chamoli surprised the scientists as much as it shocked us.

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We had not forgotten the horrors of 2013 Uttarakhand flash floods at Kedarnath when rains melted the Chorabari glacier enough to cause “Himalayan Tsunami”. The glacier burst in Joshimath, near Badrinath, was a similar disaster, which damaged two under-construction hydroelectric power station in Rishiganga and Dhauliganga rivers, and also caused flash flooding in the Alakananda. However, the damage was mainly restricted to Joshimath area, and the downstream areas were not affected by the disaster.

The Rishiganga project at Reini village of Chamoli has thoroughly washed away. In the Dhauliganga project, the mouth of one of the tunnel was completely blocked were some of the project workers were working. Twelve workers have been rescued from a small tunnel by the NDRF, SDRF, Indian Tibetan border police and some other disaster operation teams jointly, after executing an indomitable task of cutting through the debris. However, the main tunnel is entirely blocked with at least 25-35 workers trapped inside. Despite the timely rescue operations, at least 50 lives are lost in the disaster, with over 150 missing as of 14th Feb 2021.

Scientists debate over what exactly happened. With proofs, it is presumed that a part of Nanda Devi glacier broke off and slid down the narrow valleys and melted, causing flash floods. It is also probable that the broken leg is a hanging valley of the massive glacier. It came down the central glacial valley into the river valley, first creating a glacial lake, which afterwards burst open, causing flash floods. The Dehradun-based Indian Institute of Remote Sensing states that the cause of flash-floods may be a landslide causing massive snow avalanche in the Rishiganga area.

There are also speculations that the cause was a radioactive substance which was long back deposited near Nanda Devi base camp. It was carried in 1965 due to China border nearby. However, the expedition team was caught in a blizzard and had to leave behind the substance. Subsequent expeditions never found it.
Another story is that of a recent western disturbance that recently visited the area, which caused heavy snow in the place, and an avalanche of a massive magnitude. Notably, the western disturbance had caused record-breaking snowfall in Shimla.

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However, all point to something exciting, Himalayan glaciers are melting very fast, and human encroachment in the mountains are causing more harm to the environment than good. A recent study done in 2019 have assessed that the glaciers are melting twice as fast as that at the beginning of the 20th century. Glaciers and snow will disappear from the Himalayas by the turn of the next century if conditions are not reversed.

Again, what is the need of the hour is awareness. Construction of roads, helipads, for easy access to the mountains may be a short term measure to prevent massive destruction due to natural calamities. The long term measures speak about global warming, pollution, encroachment, illegal construction, and much more. People of Lahaul-Spiti have already raised voices against the construction of hydroelectric power plants in the area, where environmental impact assessment are speculated to be not carried out correctly. It may be the beginning of new research in the ecologically sensitive Himalayan region, where we need the glaciers to stay and increase in volume.

For latest updates regarding Uttarakhand 2021 disaster, you may follow it here.

Written by – Himadri Paul

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