Unprecedented glacier melting caused by warming global temperatures has spawned an increase in massive water surges known as "Himalayan tsunamis" that are causing vast destruction in Himalayan communities in India and threatening countless others across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, India, Nepal and Bhutan, according to a recent report by India Today.
The phenomenon known as Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFS) "are capable of releasing billions of cubic meters of glacial water, stored for decades, in a few short hours, or even in a matter of minutes and virtually without warning to those living downstream," India Today reports.
As the average global temperature continues to rise, a combination of "rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers," extreme rainfall, and unpredictable seismic events are causing the GLOFS in which massive waves of water suddenly charge down mountains and wipe out entire villages and communities.
"The Kedarnath floods may be only a small precursor to never-seen-before mega floods," said Maharaj K. Pandit, director, Center for Inter-disciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environment at Delhi University, in reference to a recent and deadly GLOFS that "entombed most of Kedarnath town in just 24 hours on the evening of June 16 and on June 17," India Today reports.
"Survivors say they witnessed tonnes of waterborne debris flattening almost anything that stood in the way. Screaming pilgrims, their voices drowned out, did not stand a chance in the face of the ferocious flood that unbelievably tossed around boulders, several meters across, like paper balls," India Today writes.
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Such instances have increased over recent decades, along with steady warming in the region, while proliferating glacial lakes currently pose an imminent threat to more and more communities.
Significant warming in the snowbound higher Himalayas is causing the growth of existing glacial lakes and the formation of new water bodies, according to Pandit.
Surface air temperatures in the Indian Himalayas have increased by one degree Celsius in the past decade.
"It is like a ticking time bomb," India Today writes. According to research by scientist Pradeep Mool at International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), there are at least 20,000 glacial lakes across the Himalayas, straddling Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, India, Nepal and Bhutan, with more than 200 of them currently classified as potentially dangerous.
"They have a huge potential for causing damage," Mool said of what a growing community of scientists in the region are now calling "Himalayan tsunamis."