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Himalayan Glacier Disaster Highlights Climate Change Risks

Himalayan Glacier Disaster Highlights Climate Change Risks

After examining satellite images, scientists believe that last weekend's glacier disaster in northern India is linked to a landslide and an avalanche.

NEW DELHI (AP) — When Ravi Chopra saw the devastating deluge of water and debris crash downstream from a Himalayan glacier on Sunday, his first thought was that this was exactly the scenario that his team had warned the Indian government of in 2014.

At least 31 people have died, 165 people are missing many more are feared to have died. The deluge first smashed into a small dam, gathering more energy as it grew heavier from the debris it collected along the way. Then, it smashed into a larger, under-construction dam and gathered even more energy.

Chopra and other experts had been tasked by India's Supreme Court to study the impact of receding glaciers on dams. They had warned that warming temperatures due to climate change was melting the Himalayan glaciers and facilitated avalanches and landslides, and that constructing dams in this fragile ecosystem was dangerous.

“They were clearly warned, and yet they went ahead,” said Chopra, director of the non-profit People’s Science Institute.

Scientists had first suspected that a glacial lake had burst, but after examining satellite images now believe that a landslide and avalanche were the more likely cause of the disaster. What isn't clear still is whether the landslide induced an avalanche of ice and debris, or whether falling ice resulted in the landslide, said Mohammad Farooq Azam, who studies glaciers at the Indian Institute of Technology at Indore.
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