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GLOF remains the biggest hazard for Bhutan
Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF)
The Melting Himalayas Flash Floods in the Himalayas ICIMOD
Climate change: a local perspective
Global warming created this lake out of glacier, say local residents
Farmer Rinchen had endured, without complaints, the weeds competing for nutrition and sunshine in her chili garden for many seasons. But in recent years she has come across new weeds that spread faster.

"There are so many foreign weeds in the garden and they spread very fast," says the 65-year old farmer from Semtokha, Thimphu, who calls the weeds Jagar yulma meaning Indian weeds. She adds quickly: "The climate is becoming hotter every year making it favourable for weeds from hot places to flourish."

As more and more scientists try to pin down global warming to climate change, farmers in Bhutan have their own indigenous explanation. For instance, Rinchen never heard of global warming, but is adamant the climate in Thimphu has become warmer over the years.

According to Rinchen, the migratory bird, Chunka (Chough), which used to visit the Thimphu valley for about three months in winter- December, January, and February ? could today be seen around only about a month in winter. "Not long ago I had a chunka nest in my attic, nowadays they hardly stay," she said.

A farmer in Tshokona near Wangduephodrang recalls watching black-necked cranes dance in her fields not long ago. "It stopped coming about five years ago," said farmer Sonam Chodey. 'It could be the weather because the fields are still the same, never disturbed," she said.

A glaciologist in his presentation on impact of climate change on glaciers and glacial lakes cited some examples of indigenous signs. He said that the frequent dengue fever problems and the change in agriculture pattern could be related to climate change. "We can cultivate paddy in Bumthang now," he said relating it to the change in climate.

Skeptics argue that foreign weeds could have come from imported seeds, that paddy cultivation in colder regions is possible because of improved seeds variety, and cranes disappear because of developmental activities, but glaciers have continued to melt at an increasing pace in the Himalayas.

A report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) released last month on the study of glaciers and glacial lakes in the Lunana basin from 1968 to 1998 showed retreating glaciers and growing glacial lakes. The report stated that the Luggye glacier retreated by 160 metres a year from 1988 to 1993, resulting in a high growth rate of Luggye tsho.

The Raphsthreng glacier retreated on an average by 35 metres from 1984 to 1998, but within five years, from 1998 to 1993 the retreat rate was 60 metres a year, the report stated.

The study states that glaciers in the Himalayan regions are retreating, which was compelling evidence of global climate change. The study predicts that temperature in the sub continent would increase between 3.5 degree Celsius to 5.5 degree Celsius by 2100 and an even greater increase is predicted for the Tibetan plateau. It is predicted that a 1 degree Celsius in temperature would cause alpine glaciers worldwide to shrink by as much as 40 percent.

Bhutan has already suffered five glacial lake outburst floods in the past. The last one occurred in 1994 when the Luggye tsho burst in the early hours of October 7.

Glacial lake outburst floods can have varying degrees of socioeconomic impact. Their impact can be quite extensive since they can destroy villages, agricultural land, roads, bridges, hydropower plants, and trekking trails, as well as causing loss of life. The Tibetan Zhangzhangbo GLOF in 1981 caused extensive infrastructural damage and nearly US$3 million in losses. The Dig Tsho GLOF in Nepal in 1985 destroyed a power plant with a loss of US$1.3 million, destroyed homes and land, and caused considerable loss of life. The Luggye Tso GLOF in Bhutan in 1994 damaged the sacred Dzong and cultivated land, and also caused loss of life..

Source: Ugyen Penjore, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper 2007
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ICIMOD: The Melting Himalayas

This policy summary looks at reported and possible, future consequences of climate change in the greater Himalayan region. The main emphasis is on responses in high mountain cryogenic phenomena such as glaciers, permafrost, and avalanches; the implications for water supply, ecosystems, and hazards; and how these threaten regional populations. The assessment points to a serious need to improve relevant knowledge in the region concerning key policy areas and strategies to improve the adaptive capacities of communities at risk.

The greater Himalayan region is taken to include the inner and south Asian mountains and high plateaux. It contains the most extensive and rugged high altitude areas on Earth, and the largest areas covered by glaciers and permafrost outside high latitudes. The ecosystems and human cultures in this region are exceptionally diverse. Global climate change is predicted to lead to major shifts in the strength and timing of the main climate systems affecting the region: the Asian monsoon, inner Asian high pressure systems, and Westerlies. Moreover, climate change is expected to intensify in mountain areas, especially high relief, sub-tropical areas. Already of major concern is the rapid reduction of glaciers in much of the region.
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This, in itself, is signifi cant and has implications for regional water resources, as well as being an indicator of the scale of climate change. Some major hazards, from debris fl ows to glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), are becoming more frequent and severe (Beniston 2003). In fact, all aspects of the Himalayan cryosphere are affected by climate change. They include vast areas of permafrost and areas subject to snow avalanches or freeze-thaw and are affected by the changing balance between snow and rainfall. Complexities arise, especially from interactions among different cold climate elements. The most rapid and varied interactions occur through the vertical 'cascade' of moisture and sediment between different topoclimates. Large and rapid downslope, down-glacier, or downstream cascades also exaggerate the scale and diffi culty of predicting hazards such as debris fl ows and fl ash floods. The varied ability of mountain species to respond as temperature warms, glaciers retreat, and weather extremes become more common threatens extinction for some and is a threat to biodiversity in general.

An important theme is the enormous diversity within the region in climates and topoclimates, hydrology and ecology, and, above all, in human cultures and the ways in which their activities are complexly interwoven with elements of the cryosphere and alpine ecosystem. The complex regional differentiation magnifi es the signifi cance of two major problems: the widespread absence of basic scientific investigations into cryogenic processes and limited knowledge of the human cultures and ongoing developments in them. This leads to the theme of 'uncertainty on a Himalayan scale', referring more to problems of limited knowledge than inherent physical and social uncertainties.

The impacts of climate change are not evenly distributed in intensity within the region, nor among different communities and sectors of society. However, the poorer, more marginalised, people of the high mountains are likely to suffer the earliest and the most. Given the evidence that many risks already threaten women disproportionately; and also the elderly, disabled, and indigenous groups, especially their poorer members; identifying changes in the cryosphere and alpine ecosystem most likely to affect them is of utmost importance. In addition, there are broader regional questions of which the more severe highland-to-lowland dangers relate to rapid melting events, floods caused by natural dam bursts, increased sedimentation, and droughts caused by reduced or changed fl ow patterns.

Of course, mountain people have lived with and survived great hazards for thousands of years, but current rates of climate change are among the most rapid known and they are superimposed on severe and, equally, uncertain socioeconomic pressures. A range of issues and policy areas are identifi ed, from the regional to local community levels, through which these problems might be addressed. They involve land use, water management, disaster management, energy consumption, and human health. It is argued that community-led adaptive strategies and capacities, as well as substantial efforts to reverse the human drivers of climate change, are needed. An important practical and ethical requirement is for all levels of government, research, non-government organisations, and professions to engage with mountain communities in combined efforts to increase their adaptive capacities to climate change.


ICIMOD: Flash Floods in the Himalayas: Summary
The Himalayas are one of the youngest mountain ranges on earth and represent a high energy environment very much prone to natural disasters. High relief, steep slopes, complex geological structures with active tectonic processes and continued seismic activities, and a climate characterised by great seasonality in rainfall, all combine to make natural disasters, especially water-induced hazards, common phenomena.

Flash floods are among the more devastating types of hazard as they occur rapidly with little lead time for warning, and transport tremendous amounts of water and debris at high velocity. Flash floods affect thousands of people in the Himalayan region every year - their lives, homes, and livelihoods - along with expensive infrastructure.

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Intense rainfall

Intense rainfall is the most common cause of flash floods in the Himalayan region. These events may last from several minutes to several days. Such events may happen anywhere but are more common to mountain catchments. The main meteorological phenomenon causing intense rainfalls in the region are cloudbursts, stationarity of monsoon trough and monsoon depressions.

Landslide dam outburst

Debris from a landslide can temporarily block the flow of a river creating a reservoir in the upstream reach. The landslide dam can breach due to overtopping and cause huge floods known as landslide dam outburst floods (LDOF).

Glacial lake outburst

The glaciers in the Himalayas are mostly retreating, and as they retreat lakes can form from melt water held in by the now exposed terminal moraine acting as a dam. If the dam breaks the water can be released suddenly resulting in a glacial lake outburst flood.

Impact of climate change

Intense rainfall floods and landslide dam outburst floods are directly related to the hydrometeorological conditions and likely to be affected by climate change. Climate models project an increase in monsoon precipitation in the region. Similarly the frequency and magnitude of extreme rainfall events are also anticipated to. GLOFs are related to glacial retreat which in turn is mainly due to climatic warming. It is therefore very likely that flash floods due to intense rainfall, landslide dam outbursts, and glacial lake outbursts will increase in the future.

ICIMOD initiatives

While the region is highly exposed to flash flood hazards, due to poor socioeconomic condition the vulnerability is also high. In general the capacity to manage the risk of flash floods is low. ICIMOD has undertaken several initiatives targeted towards mitigation of the impact of flash floods including development of an inventory of glaciers and glacial lakes for a part of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region; an international workshop on flash floods in Lhasa, PR China; capacity building for flash flood risk management; and satellite rainfall estimation. ICIMOD will continue to work in flash flood management in the region particularly in raising awareness towards flash floods, increasing capacity to manage the risk, and linking flash floods risk management with climate change adaptation.


ICIMOD - International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is an independent 'Mountain Learning and Knowledge Centre' serving the eight countries of the Hindu Kush- Himalayas - Afghanistan , Bangladesh , Bhutan , China , India , Myanmar , Nepal , and Pakistan - and the global mountain community. Founded in 1983, ICIMOD is based in Kathmandu, Nepal, and brings together a partnership of regional member countries, partner institutions, and donors with a commitment for development action to secure a better future for the people and environment of the extended Himalayan region. ICIMOD's activities are supported by its core programme donors: the governments of Austria, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, and its regional member countries, along with over thirty project co-financing donors. The primary objective of the Centre is to promote the development of an economically and environmentally sound mountain ecosystem and to improve the living standards of mountain populations.

Source: ICIMOD 2007
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Regional Challenges and Local Impacts of Climate Change on Mountain Ecosystems and Livelihoods
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Source: ICIMOD
The Melting Himalayas
1.1 MB PDF-File PDF Download
Source: ICIMOD
Flashfloods in the Himalayas
244 KB PDF-File PDF Download
Glacial lake
RAOnline Download
Source: ICIMOD
Impact of Climate Change on Himalayan Glaciers and Glacial Lakes in Nepal and Bhutan
3.9 MB PDF-File PDF Download
Case Studies on GLOF and Associated Hazards in Nepal and Bhutan (2007)
This study, prepared in close cooperation with and supported by the United Nations Environment Programme Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, investigates the impact of climate change on glaciers and glacial lakes in two major glacial hotspots in the Himalayas: the Dudh Koshi sub-basin in the Khumbu-Everest region in Nepal, and the Pho Chu sub-basin in Bhutan.


VIDEO Bhutan - Nepal
Flight over the Himalayas
UNDP-Film "Revealed: The Himalayan Meltdown"
Nepal's retreating glaciers
East-West Highway: From Thimphu to Mongar
Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang Videos Punakha Dzong
Bhutan: Lunana's glaciers
Bhutan's glaciers are retreating
Raphstreng Tsho in Lunana
Bhutan's Glaciers Pictures
About Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang
River rafting Pho Chhu Valley (Photos)
Punakha: Traditional Bridges - Bazams
East-West Highway

External links
GRID-Arendal News NASA's Global Change Master Directory United Nations Environment Programme World Glacier Monitoring Service International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development
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