Research ArticleGEOPHYSICS

Seismic observations, numerical modeling, and geomorphic analysis of a glacier lake outburst flood in the Himalayas

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Science Advances  16 Sep 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 38, eaba3645
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba3645

Abstract

Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) are a substantial hazard for downstream communities in vulnerable regions, yet unpredictable triggers and remote source locations make GLOF dynamics difficult to measure and quantify. Here, we revisit a destructive GLOF that occurred in Bhutan in 1994 and apply cross-correlation–based seismic analyses to track the evolution of the GLOF remotely (~100 kilometers from the source region). We use the seismic observations along with eyewitness reports and a downstream gauge station to constrain a numerical flood model and then assess geomorphic change and current state of the unstable lakes via satellite imagery. Coherent seismic energy is evident from 1 to 5 hertz beginning approximately 5 hours before the flood impacted Punakha village, which originated at the source lake and advanced down the valley during the GLOF duration. Our analysis highlights potential benefits of using real-time seismic monitoring to improve early warning systems.

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