16 May 2011

Mountain hazards in the Himalayas – Attabad, GLOFS and earthquakes

Posted by Dave Petley

Two items of interest to those of us who work in the Himalaya mountain chain have cropped up this weekend:

1. Attabad continues to confound all management approaches

The Express Tribune in Pakistan has an article today on the continued problems of managing the Attabad landslide in Hunza, Pakistan.  This article focuses on the essentially unsuccessful attempts to deepen the spillway, and thus reduce the water level, this winter.  In particular, it quotes Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Chief Minister Mehdi Shah as follows “The boulder is too big to be moved using controlled blasts”.  The issue appears to be that a large boulder in the landslide debris has resisted the excavations.  This could be good or bad news, depending on the exact circumstances.  It could be that this boulder will prevent collapse of the dam in the long-term; alternatively, it could be that the water will find away around the blockage.  More detail is needed; unfortunately there is still a lack of clarity as to what is going on.  Given that the snowmelt season is now beginning, the concerns of the local population are understandable.

Meanwhile, the privations of the local population continue.  The Pamir Times is carrying an article about a protest that is ongoing in the area.  The key issues appear to be the lack of the promised compensation for the displaced people and the lack of progress in deepening the spillway.

2. Earthquake and GLOF danger in the Himalayas

Meanwhile, the work that we have been doing on seismic risk in the Himalayas is nicely supplemented by an article on the BBC website that highlights work at various institutions in South Asia.  The article nicely emphasises the really profound risk of a devastating earthquake in this area, but the key emphasis is the potential for a seismic event to trigger the collapse of rapidly growing glacial lakes in the mountains, unleashing potentially catastrophic floods down the valleys below.  The risk is very real.

The level of preparedness for a major seismic event in the Himalayas is deeply concerning.  The magnitude of the hazard has been known for a decade or more.  The lack of progress is desperately frustrating.