Mysterious Avalanche In Tibet Was Caused By Climate Change, Study Finds

Posted: Dec 9 2016, 10:40pm CST | by , Updated: Dec 9 2016, 11:10pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Mysterious Avalanche in Tibet was Caused by Climate Change, Study Finds
Credit: Ohio State University
 

New analysis suggests that presence of meltwater inside the Tibetan glacier let go tons of ice hurtling down to a valley below, killing nine people

In July 2016, a massive avalanche in Tibet broke off a huge chunk of glacial ice and rock, which hurtled down into a valley and killed nine people. Then, a second huge avalanche hit two months later with only few kilometers apart, leaving researchers scrambling for answers.

The first avalanche spilled down 70 million tons of ice from Aru Glacier in the mountainous region of western Tibet. The second, in September, was smaller but ended up dislodging several kilometers of ice. With no extraordinary temperatures and rainfall in the region and glacier sitting on a fairly flat terrain, researchers were unable to figure out what caused those two massive avalanches to occur in quick succession. 

“Even one of these gigantic glacier avalanches is very unusual. Two of them within close geographical and temporal vicinity is, to our best knowledge, unprecedented.”Andreas Kääb, a glaciologist at the University of Oslo said in a statement in September.

Ever since the first avalanche, researchers have been using satellite data and GPS to get precise measurements of ice fall along the range and trying to identify crevasses on the glacier surface and changes in elevations months prior to the collapse. Analysis and computer simulations led up to only condition: presence of meltwater inside the glacier, reflecting that climate change has finally started to affect once stable region of Tibetan Plateau.

“Given the rate at which the event occurred and the area covered, I think it could only happen in the presence of meltwater,” said study researcher Ellen Mosley-Thompson from Ohio State University.

“We still don’t know exactly where the meltwater came from, but given that the average temperature at the nearest weather station has risen by about 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over the last 50 years, it makes sense that snow and ice are melting and the resulting water is seeping down beneath the glacier.”

The situation is alarming because glaciers in western Tibet had resisted the effects of climate change for a long time, whereas southern and eastern Tibet glaciers are melting at a rapid pace.

As the region is heating up, it is causing increased snowfall and the extra snowfall likely played some role in the avalanche by creating additional meltwater.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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