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:
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.
I asked myself the same questions yesterday when I saw the first pictures and I get to slightly different conclusions.
I read that the thickness of the deposit is around 25m, so recovering bodies even in snow would be very difficult. We already struggle to locate ski avalanche victims under 5m of snow, so 25m on such a wide area will be terribly difficult.
From the pictures I get more the impression that the deposit is made of snow mixed with a lot of dust. It looks like there is not many rocks in the deposit.
I got more the impression that we have here a huge avalanche that was triggered by a big landslide. Maybe there was as well some moraine erosion during the event (this is pure speculation!)
I agree with the morphology of the deposit that doesn’t look like a snow avalanche, maybe because of the high content of dust/rocks in the snow ?
It will be interesting to find out more if we can get reports even after journalists stop reporting about the initial tragedy.
The landslide /avalanche and Gyari army camp is marked on Wikimapia http://wikimapia.org/#lat=35.215595&lon=76.8272204&z=15&l=0&m=b (35.229408 N 76.8543 E) with the comment:
Very obvious avalanche zone. The camp should not have been sited here. The avalanche should have been predicted and camp sited elsewhere. God bless the soldiers.
Four still photographs on the China Military website http://chn.chinamil.com.cn/jdtp/2012-04/08/content_4828888.htm and a short video clip with ariel views taken from a helicopter http://tribune.com.pk/story/361557/siachen-glacier-pakistan-army-hopes-miracle-will-save-avalanche-victims
Terrible news these are. Loss of a single life is saddening enough, and when it is on such a large scale, around 140, it does become a big tragedy. I hope and pray now that at least the remains of the soldiers are found.
It does seem to be something other than avalanche. The reasons given above by Guillaume and Dave and the initial pictures available does seem to point and show that it was not a “normal” avalanche. Avalanches in that area are common phenominan and the soldiers that are till now missing, were stationed in Army headquarters at Gayari. Given the importance of the facility to the operation of business at that particular and adjoining areas and commonly occurring phenomena of avalanches there, i guess enough thought would have been put as to the location of the facility. The fact that still something happened and took the facility along with precious lives with it, does point to this being not an avalanche. I have no knowldege about the kind of structure that is burried under the mass now, whether it was a reinforced concrete structure built on proper foundations or whether it was some kind of “roller” foundations that were supporting this structure. I assume in the first case the planners of the rescue team would have some idea as to probable location of the remains, while in the second case it seems much to be random process. The area seem to be huge and location quite remote for the heavy machinery to be there rather quickly which makes the rescue operation even more difficult.
I have no idea what could have triggered this event. Whether it was landslide that set things in motion or whether it was some kind of cloud burst (at that elevation…??) that made such a huge mass to move? In the second case would it be possible to use numerical weather predicting models to forecast something?
Wikipedia won’t let you change it to a landslide rather than an avalanche until this is stated in a reputable third party reliable source. Sorry – generally blogs don’t cut it, so even though you think it’s a landslide, the Wikiwallahs won’t have that until you are published as saying that in say, The Times or the Daily Telegraph, rather than on your blog. Sucks, I know.
Someone has done a map:
The buried base is slightly to the south of the location given by Wikipedia.
Yes! A devastating and a painful event for us (Pakistanis) as well as it is an event to learn something like the earthquake of October 6, 2005. I have some pictures of this site, may be helpful for researchers.
Ijaz Ahmad Qaisrani
Geological Survey of Pakistan
Also visit plz
allah sub ki khar kary pak arrmy ky hero ko salam
Ya Allah Mada
Interesting blog post! I tend to agree it may have been an avalanche that triggered this massive avalanche.
There were more landslides yesterday ( 14-04-2012)
One of the experts on climate change from Pakistan feels it was Glacier burst:
I feel with climate change and looking at Pakistan’s North with high mountains, Pakistan should build up it’s capacity in landslide ,GLOF,avalanche mitigation an dmamangement
It is not a real “landslide” literally, it is a snow-ice-rock avalanche! There was a second event yesterday, but fortunately it did not reach the site of the camp! There seem to be still some people possibly live in underground structures. It is a race against time since the lake level of Ghayary river behind the debris is rising one foot per day!
Besides the buried army camp with the rescue mission, downstream Goma village with further infrastructure is endangered now by a possible outbreak and flood wave
[Thanks Jean, as more images have become available I agree that it is clear that this is the type of event. I have amended the post accordingly. Dave]
ya allah in mujahidoon ki madad karna warna hamari mulk ki hukumat to soo rahi hay aur wo partian b so rahi hain jo k apnay aik karkoon k marnay pay soog ka ailan kartay hain pl ya allah in ko apnay hifz-o-amman m rakhna
Ya Allah help us to find out the people,though there are very dim chances of survival but we still pray for the best.Ideeply condole the affected families .we are all with you in this crucial time.Please God help the people to find any traces of our brave soldiers.
It appears from news footage that the toe of the glacier which was above the camp collapsed.
To those who are familiar with such incidents, please comment on rescue methods being employed at Gayari. Few Power showels, and Dozers are visible from images released to media. Is it because of availability or some other technical reason?
Why not Drilling rigs?? Rotary rig? Quickly make bore hole and move to other site…
Hi to all. i really dont figure it out. why the govt seeks expert help like geophysicist from other countries, when GPR technique experts are available here in Pakistan… do trust them once. 🙂
[…] The colours suggest a cold landscape, so in my mind’s eye they are reminiscent of the recent Siachen ice / rock avalanche in Pakistan: […]
[…] On April 7, 2012, most of the soldiers on the Pakistani side were indoors in the main compound area of their army post located at 13,000 feet when the fast moving avalanche/snow slide hit at 2 am. They were buried within a few seconds and there were no survivors. They say that avalanche victims have the greatest chance of survival if they are rescued within 15 minutes of being buried; but with the entire army post wiped out there was no chance of anyone being rescued any time soon. Besides, they were all buried under one square km of snow, slush and large boulders – apparently a big chunk of the glacier above just fell on them in the middle of the night. Professor Dave Petley, the Wilson Professor of Hazard and Risk in the Department of Geography at Durham University in the UK described it as an “Ice-Rock Avalanche” in his blog. […]
That was a deadly avalanche. I’m lucky I don’t live there. I am researching avalanches and I need a case study to work on. This is an excellent website.:)
[…] The Siachen Glacier avalanche (138 people killed) was an ice-rock avalanche […]
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