Water Crisis At the Third Pole: Waiting For Glacial Tidal Wave From Shako Cho Lake

Himalayan Village Is In the Path of A Global Warming Catastrophe That Will Wash It Off the Map

GLOF is an acronym that means natural mounds that contain a glacier lake are suddenly breached and the villages below are wiped out by an instant flash flood. Avoid GLOFs.

Westerners don’t pay much attention to the area sometimes called the “roof of the world”, but the future of more than a billion Asians is tied to the rapid global warming events that are melting tens of thousands of glaciers and devastating the region’s water supply. Known to climate scientists as the Third Pole, the Himalayas/Tibetan Plateau region contains the planet’s third highest quantity of fresh water locked up in it’s glaciers.  The glaciers and seasonal snowfall of the Third Pole have provided dependable water for thousands of years and are the headwater source for 10 of Asia’s biggest rivers.

But the world is quickly growing warmer and the glaciers are retreating at an exponential pace. The water supply for about 15% of the world’s population is severely threatened in a region without the economic means to do much about it. As is the case across the planet, the new normal weather pattern alternates violently between not enough water and way too much water way too fast.

There Are No Global Warming Deniers In the Lachen Valley

In the Lachen Valley located in the Indian district of Sikkim, everything is changing. The area that once counted on 12 feet of snow annually has gotten 2 feet of late. In general, natural patterns are well out of wack: rainfall comes at the wrong time, storms are more powerful, landslides are a daily occurrence and forest fires are posing a new threat. Winters are shorter and crops are failing as the snow melts earlier and water is harder to come by. Even the mosquitoes have multiplied into immense swarms as the climate warms.

The people of the Lachen valley have been forced to abandon their traditional ways of life and begin catering to the tourist industry. The villagers are looking at a scary future that offers the choice of leaving for the cities – yet another group of climate refugees – or staying and trying to make the best of a slow decline.

The glacier lake upstream from the villages offers a third choice: a massive mountain tidal wave that will preclude the other two choices.

Glacier Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF)

About 4.500 feet above the village of Thangu in the Lachen Valley is Lake Shako Cho, a clear and swelling lake at the bottom of an eponymous glacier. Because the glacier is now melting very rapidly, the lake is expanding well beyond the ability of the natural gravel deposits to contain it. No one knows when the moment will occur, but it is highly likely that the glacier lake will burst in a violent event similar to a dam break. Everything downstream will be swept away by a mountain tsunami up to 40 ft. high.

Most glaciers around the world have already reached a tipping point, meaning that even if the climate were to somehow stabilize, the glaciers would continue to melt away. Expect to hear of GLOF events in Chile, Bhutan, Iceland, India, Kazakhstan, Peru, Switzerland and elsewhere.

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