Glacial lake outburst floods: A new climate-related threat from above

Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc.

By Kelso Harper

As the climate changes and glaciers melt, a lesser-known threat lurks in alpine areas: glacial lake outburst floods. These events happen rapidly, releasing huge amounts of water with little or no warning. Unsuspecting communities lying in the flood path can suffer serious losses.

Researchers seek better ways to predict these outburst floods and mitigate their danger. Take a hike through the Swiss Alps with glaciologist Fabian Walter to learn about this phenomenon and our ongoing efforts to understand it.


The resulting floods can devastate downstream communities.


According to a recent study, glacial floods have killed over 12,000 people worldwide-- in Central Asia, South America, the European Alps, and Iceland.

These events are rapid and unpredictable. There is often little or no warning when a dammed glacial lake may burst.


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