12 April 2012

The Siachen Glacier avalanche (138 people killed) was an ice-rock avalanche

Posted by Dave Petley

Now Updated – see the end of the post

The international media briefly reported that on Saturday there was a devastating event in the high mountains of Pakistani Kashmir.  An avalanche was reported to have descended from the Siachen Glacier and overwhelmed an army camp, killing 138 soldiers and civilians.  This story always had a slightly strange ring to it as the reports were that no bodies had been recovered, which is unusual in an avalanche.  In addition, one or two Pakistan news outlets started to refer to this event as a landslide.

Over the last 24 hours several pictures have emerged of the site.  This one is from AP, and shows what one assumes is the site:

Both the deposit and the morphology of the flow looks like an ice-rock avalanche rather than a simple avalanche, presumably one that has run across the surface of the ice in the side valley, and then plunged into the main valley.  Even more conclusive are these two shots of the attempts to recover the bodies.  This image is also from AP:

And this one is from rediff:

Both images show what is undoubtedly not a simple avalanche deposit.  This is undeniably that of something more complex – an ice-rock avalanche type of landslide.

So, it is clear that the Siachen Glacier Avalanche was actually the Siachen Glacier Ice-Rock Aavalanche.  It would now be interesting to find out more about what happened – for example how far this landslide travelled, and from where it originated.  Someone also needs to update the very impressive Wikipedia article on this event.

Update – further information from an article in Dawn.com:

Col (retd) Sher Khan, a mountaineering expert, suggested the devastation might have been caused by a landslide rather than an avalanche.

“For me it was a huge landslide provoked by a cloud burst, not an avalanche. In this case a huge flood of water is coming down from the sky and creates a lot of mud and loose earth on the mountain. Mostly boulders, mud and water ran down the mountain.”

He said several days of freezing temperatures would have hardened the mass of snow, mud and boulders, making digging more difficult.