Archive for the 'floods' Category

Unnatural Disaster: How Global Warming Helped Cause India’s Catastrophic Flood

Photo retrieved from: www.e360.yale.edu

“The flood had severed the eight-mile footpath to Kedarnath from the rest of India. Kaul took a bus to Guptkashi, the closest town with public transport, but nearly 25 miles short of Kedarnath. He continued on foot, astonished at the scale of destruction even so far downstream. The flood had passed through Kedarnath and surged down the Mandakini, joined by swollen tributaries, gathering force and debris. Kaul saw bare abutments where bridges had stood and foundationless houses dangling above landslide scars. Thirty hydroelectric plants had been damaged or destroyed.

About four miles shy of Kedarnath, he came to the former site of Rambara, a way station that once had about 100 seasonal shopping stalls and several small hotels. Pilgrims had rested there over sweet, milky tea and fried flatbreads and bought camping supplies and religious trinkets. Kaul saw only an empty shelf of bedrock strewn with boulders. “One couldn’t imagine there’d been anything there,” he said later.

Some of of Kedarnath’s steel-reinforced concrete guesthouses and stuccoed fieldstone homes survived better. Still, nearly three quarters of its 259 buildings had been damaged. More than half had been battered and washed away. The flood took most of its victims in Kedarnath, the season’s first pilgrims. “They were still finding dead people,” Kaul recalled, noting that he had smelled rotting flesh and watched relief workers excavate a severed leg.

Kaul climbed steep hills to an overlook about 2,000 feet above the town. The top of a hulking mountain, nearly 23,000 feet tall and crowned by Chorabari glacier, appeared. It blocked the sky at the head of the valley. At an inflection point, where the slope leveled off, a vast tongue of ice stretched out for a mile. Kaul looked for Chorabari Tal. It should have been visible below him, near the tongue’s tip. But there was no lake to be seen.

Titanic geologic forces had forged Chorabari Tal during the widespread cold spell that lasted from about 1300 to 1870 and is known as the Little Ice Age. The glacier had bulldozed stone into linear piles — moraines — jammed between the advancing tongue and the valley’s bedrock rim. The ice had then receded, leaving the lake’s lens-shaped basin, a depression with no outlet. Rain and melted snow filled it every spring and summer. At times, water drained out through the porous moraine, and the water level dropped.

Now, as Kaul looked down, he saw that the basin was empty. He knew what had occurred: The moraine had ruptured, letting loose the lake’s entire contents in a catastrophic spasm.”

Read more: Yale Environment 360

In the Shadow of Glacial Lakes, Pakistan’s Mountain Communities Look to Climate Adaptation

Photo retrieved from: www.ipsnews.net

“Landslides, floods and soil erosion have become increasingly frequent, disrupting channels that carry fresh water from upstream springs into farmlands, and depriving communities of their only source of fresh water.

“Things were becoming very difficult for my family,” Zaman told IPS. “I began to think that farming was no longer viable, and was considering abandoning it and migrating to nearby Chitral [a town about 60 km away] in search of labour.”

He was not alone in his desperation. Azam Mir, an elderly wheat farmer from the Drongagh village in Bindo Gol, recalled a devastating landslide in 2008 that wiped out two of the most ancient water channels in the area, forcing scores of farmers to abandon agriculture and relocate to nearby villages.

“Those who could not migrate out of the village suffered from water-borne diseases and hunger,” he told IPS.

Now, thanks to a public-private sector climate adaptation partnership aimed at reducing the risk of disasters like glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), residents of the northern valleys are gradually regaining their livelihoods and their hopes for a future in the mountains.

Bursting at the seams

According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), there were some 2,400 potentially hazardous glacial lakes in the country’s remotest mountain valleys in 2010, a number that has now increased to over 3,000.

Chitral district alone is home to 549 glaciers, of which 132 have been declared ‘dangerous’.

Climatologists say that rising temperatures are threatening the delicate ecosystem here, and unless mitigation measures are taken immediately, the lives and livelihoods of millions will continue to be at risk.

One of the most successful initiatives underway is a four-year, 7.6-million-dollar project backed by the U.N. Adaptation Fund, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the government of Pakistan.

Signed into existence in 2010, its main focus, according to Field Manager Hamid Ahmed Mir, has been protection of lives, livelihoods, existing water channels and the construction of flood control infrastructure including check dams, erosion control structures and gabion walls.”

Read more: IPS News

 

As Violence Grips Iraq, Fears of Pre-Emptive Flooding Arise

Photo retrieved from: www.commondreams.org

“Regardless of which side might open the floodgates, it is the civilian population who would suffer in such an event, Peter Bosshard, Policy Director of International Rivers, an organization that works to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them,explained to Common Dreams.

“Dams have been used as weapons of mass destruction through the ages,” Bosshard continued. “In the first recorded water war, the army of Umma, a Sumerian city state, drained irrigation canals against their enemies of Lagash in present-day Iraq, not far from Haditha Dam, 4,500 years ago. In the most infamous case, the nationalist army of Chian Kai Shek destroyed the dikes of the Yellow River in 1937 to slow the advancing Japanese army, thereby flooding hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of land and killing at least 800,000 of its own people,” he added.

Khalid Salman, head of the Haditha local council, told the Washington Post that ISIS would want take over the dam not to unleash flooding but to control the power plant powered by it, thus being able to provide a service to the local population.

“Of course they want to control the dam, which is very important, not only for Anbar, but for all of Iraq,” the Post quotes Salman as saying.

Meanwhile, violence continues to erupt in the country. Reuters reports that on Thursday battles were “raging” in the city of Tikrit, where Iraqi forces are launching a counter-attack on Sunni militant forces.”

Read more: Common Dreams

 

Why global water shortages pose threat of terror and war

Photo retrieved from: www.newsecuritybeat.org

“Already a billion people, or one in seven people on the planet, lack access to safe drinking water. Britain, of course, is currently at the other extreme. Great swaths of the country are drowning in misery, after a series of Atlantic storms off the cough-western coast. But that too is part of the picture that has been coming into sharper focus over 12 years of the Grace satellite record. Countries at northern latitudes and in the tropics are getting wetter. But those countries at mid-latitude are running increasingly low on water.

“What we see is very much a picture of the wet areas of the Earth getting wetter,” Famiglietti said. “Those would be the high latitudes like the Arctic and the lower latitudes like the tropics. The middle latitudes in between, those are already the arid and semi-arid parts of the world and they are getting drier.”

On the satellite images the biggest losses were denoted by red hotspots, he said. And those red spots largely matched the locations of groundwater reserves.

“Almost all of those red hotspots correspond to major aquifers of the world. What Grace shows us is that groundwater depletion is happening at a very rapid rate in almost all of the major aquifers in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world.”

The Middle East, north Africa and south Asia are all projected to experience water shortages over the coming years because of decades of bad management and overuse.”

Read more: The Guardian

 

River Thames Bursts Banks, Flooding Homes Near London

Photo retrieved from: www.online.wsj.com

“As of late Monday, the Environment Agency had severe flood warnings—meaning there is a danger to life—for 14 areas in the southeast of England and two in the southwest, one of the hardest hit regions. It also warned that flooding was expected and immediate action required for 131 further areas across England and Wales, with the highest risk seen in the Midlands, southeast and southwest of the country, and flooding was also possible in a further 216 areas.

The Thames Barrier, one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world, closed Monday morning and would be closed again later until early hours of Tuesday, the agency said. Since the beginning of January 2014 the barrier, designed to protect 125 square kilometers of central London from flooding caused by tidal surges, has been closed 29 times.

“Extreme weather will continue to threaten communities this week, with further severe flooding expected Monday evening into Tuesday along the Thames in [the counties of] Berkshire and Surrey,” Paul Leinster, the chief executive of the Environment Agency, said in a statement. “River levels are high across southwest, central and southern England and further rain has the potential to cause significant flooding.”

Significant groundwater flooding was also expected in the southeast, including parts of London, the agency said.”

Read more: The Wall Street Journal

 

Glacier Hazards and Risk Mitigation

“Pakistan is located at the junction of the world’s three largest mountain ranges— Karakorum, Himalayas and Hindu Kush. The region has a total coverage area of 3500 sq.km and Pakistan hosts 8 out of 14 highest peaks of the world. A large part of the area remains covered by piles of snow round the year. Scientists and climate advocators call the region the Third Pole outside of the polar region.

An inventory study conducted by International Center for Integrated Mountain Development(ICIMOD) in the five Hindu Kush-Himalayan(HKH) countries of Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, has identified a total of 15,003 glaciers, covering an area of about 33,344 sq.km, and 8,790 glacial lakes, of which 203 have been identified as potentially dangerous

 

Baltoro Glacier, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, retrieved from DeviantArt

In 2005 water Resource Research Institute (WRSI) of Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) in collaboration with ICIMOD prepared a glacial inventory, identifying 5218 glaciers with an average coverage area of 15041 sq.km. The study has recorded 2420 glacial lakes of which 52 were identified as potentially dangerous.

Outburst floods of such glacial lakes pose great threat to the downstream low lying areas. The northern and north western parts of Pakistan, mostly Chitral in KPK district and Gilgit Baltistan are hosting these larger glaciers. As climate change intensifies, risk and frequency of Glacial Lakes Outburst Floods (GLOF) is expected to increase in future. Many other research papers have also indicated that the glaciers in Karakorum and Himalayas which also have a regional sharing with central Asian region is susceptible to climate change, and these glacier are going through rapid changes.”

Read more: Dardistan Times

Development Follows Devastation from Brazilian Dam

Photo retrieved from: www.ipsnews.net

“Valdenor de Melo has been waiting for 27 years for the land and cash compensation he is due because his old farm was left underwater when the Itaparica hydroelectric dam was built on the São Francisco river in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast.

“I’ll get them, I’m confident,” he told IPS, although he is worried it will be after he retires as a farmer. But the 60-year-old at least has a solid brick house, where he lives with part of his family in a purpose-built farming village where all of the homes look alike.

The Melo family is one of the 10,500 families displaced in 1988, according to official data, by the reservoir of the Itaparica dam, which generates 1,480 MW of electricity.

But the real number of people forced off their land by the dam is nearly double that – close to 80,000 people, Russell Parry Scott, an anthropologist from the U.S., wrote in his book “Negociações e resistências persistentes”, published in Portuguese. The book is based on studies carried out at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Northeast Brazil, where he is a professor.

Melo’s undying hope is based on the process that began with the construction of the dam and the 828-sq-km reservoir, which submerged four towns as well as riverbank fields along a 150-km stretch of the border between the states of Bahía and Pernambuco.

Unlike other hydropower plants in Brazil, the Itaparica dam triggered a successful, organised movement by the rural families who were displaced.”

Read more: IPS News

 

Breaking The Ice

Dear Readers of Peak Water,

I begin my first column in the form of an open letter, intended to explain my motivations, and underlying passions for the topics I shall discuss. I hope that the reasoning behind subsequent posts will be made apparent by what is to follow.

As predicated by the title of this column, the central themes are to be cryospheric in nature. My personal perspectives and the root of my passion were predominantly shaped by an experience many years ago, a journey that inspired everything that I am, and hope to be.

Photo taken by Peter Inglis

When I was twelve, I was fortunate enough to embark upon a life-changing expedition to the far northern reaches of India. For a month, I trekked alongside my father, Peter, and mentor-to-be, Tilak. For weeks we marched through the vast wildernesses of Ladakh and Zanskar, trudging along valleys that once lay at the bottom of the Tethys Sea. Prior to being corrected, I remember struggling to conceptualise how the ocean had flooded so much of the Himalayas, without drowning the rest of the world…alas for the loss of youth! My next corrective lesson was the realisation of the tremendous might and morphological powers of the alpine rivers. Crossing a rickety two-plank bridge, common to the region, I spotted a relict plunge pool. Naturally, I leapt forth. Whilst within the cocoon-like hollow, I remember Tilak standing above me and, ever the geologist and teacher, explaining the genesis behind its existence. Of all the incredible sights on that trip, it was this that inspired awe and respect for the massive, transformative might of the glacial Himalayan rivers.

But there was yet one more surprise in store, a sight without which no Himalayan adventure can truly be completed – a glacier. Towards the end of our trip, travelling west and then south, we passed by the gargantuan ice-mass known as Drang Drung. As a quick Google-ing will confirm, Drang Drung is the largest glacier in Ladakh, its flow route tracing roughly 22km from Zanskar. Unsurprisingly, standing on the roadside peering out at the Brobdingnagian (see Gulliver’s Travels) beast, I was struck dumb. The phenomenal orogeny, immense presence of the ice, topped by a superbly blue sky, all culminated in an exquisite crescendo of geography. I think I could safely state, that at that moment my fate was sealed, and the cryosphere became a life-defining passion

Drang Drung Glacier, photo by Peter Inglis.

Beaming forwards six years, we arrive in 2010 – my second year of university. It was whilst engaged in my academic pursuits, that the all-too familiar *bing* of Facebook curtailed my studious exertions… Lo and behold, the social network finally drew my attention to something of note; a fellow mountaineer and friend had recently traversed the Suru Valley and snapped an evolved face of Drang Drung. I imagine the majority of you are presently picturing the vast, widely publicised retreats in North America’s Cascade Range, or the Glacier National Park, perhaps the severe degradations of Swiss glaciers, or even the collapse of Antarctica’s Larsen B ice-shelf. Thankfully, the extent of retreat was not quite as detrimental. However, the glacier’s snout had withdrawn several hundred metres, and a startling change was apparent in its depth and breadth. The former subglacial (ice-covered) sides of the valley were now laid bare, with the glacier appearing to have thinned by over 20 metres, and laterally shrunk by over 300m on both sides. In itself, this change was terrifying, but it was accompanied by a new formation, hitherto unbeknown to me; a proglacial lake. The affect that this scene had was quite profound. To see the gigantic glacier, which had appeared so impermeable, so permanent, so inviolable, become so diminished, drove home the catastrophic impacts that climatic changes were triggering like nothing else could. From then on, glacier degradation, and its deleterious effects, intrigued me.

In the aftermath, as my interest was guided by various lecturers, I zeroed in on glacial hazards, becoming aware of the devastating events known as ‘outburst floods’. These have killed hundreds of thousands, and severely compromised the livelihoods and infrastructures of nations that can ill-afford developmental setbacks. Seeking regions that had hitherto been unstudied, I stumbled across the North Patagonian Icefield, conducting an investigation of the region’s several hundred lakes, endeavouring to determine the potential threats to the hydropower dams being emplaced. More recently, I undertook a Himalayan study, exploring the glacial hazards and attempting to glean the current cryospheric context for the Indo-Tibetan catchment of the Sutlej Basin. The targeted area covered over 40,000km2, and will no doubt be a region to which my focus will return again and again.

 

Indo-Tibetan Sutlej Catchment

Alas, we have reached the end of my tale. My intent has been to establish the foundations for my subsequent writings, and to convey the root of my passion in the field. From hereon in, I hope to carve a path through a broad range of topics revolving around the cryosphere and its integral links with the hydrosphere. Furthermore, I shall endeavour to concisely report on topics of mutual interest without being quite so heavy-handed in my use of synonyms, alliteration, archaic phraseology or flagging attempts at humour…though I can’t promise anything!

Your sincerely,

 

Sam Inglis, Breaking Ice

 

Protecting Rivers, Reducing Climate Vulnerability

Photo retrieved from: www.internationalrivers.org

“The mountain valleys of the North Indian state of Uttarakhand have been heavily developed with hydropower projects, tourism resorts and other infrastructure. When a cloudburst hit the state in June 2013, the choked rivers were unable to cope with the ravaging floods. Flashfloods washed away hundreds of buildings, bridges and dams, claimed more than 5,000 lives and caused an estimated damage of $50 billion.

Climate change will bring more extreme weather events such as droughts and the cloudburst experienced in Uttarakhand. Healthy rivers and their floodplains act as natural buffers that protect us from the worst vagaries of a changing climate. Free-flowing rivers build the deltas and mangrove belts that protect our coastlines, preserve fisheries and forests, and recharge the groundwater reserves that sustain our water supply and agriculture. Floodplains, marshes, dunes, reefs and mangrove forests – often referred to as green infrastructure or bioshields – are vital to making our societies more climate resilient.

Climate change is water change. Learning from earlier flood disasters and preparing for climate change, governments, scientists and environmental organizations have started to remove levees and recreate floodplains on rivers such as the Rhine, the lower Yangtze and the lower Danube. Ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change is being promoted by forward-looking tools such as the EU Water Framework Directive and the UNECE Water Convention.”

Read more: International Rivers

 

Amid Drought, Explaining Colorado’s Extreme Floods

 

Photo retrieved from: www.nationalgeographic.com

“U.S. President Barack Obama declared an emergency for Boulder, Larimer, and El Paso Counties on Friday and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has deployed four rescue teams to the area, the most ever in the state.

Just as troubling as all the damage, Udall says, is that this week’s floods do not fit into the usual pattern of high water in the West.

The floods were not the result of springtime rains or intense summer thunderstorms that quickly dump large amounts of rain in concentrated areas, such as the 1976 Big Thompson or 1997 Fort Collins floods.

“This was a totally new type of event: an early fall widespread event during one of the driest months of the year,” Udall said.

So what explains the anomaly?

Sandra Postel, National Geographic’s Freshwater Fellow, said that the long-term drought that has parched the area and gripped much of the Colorado River Basin over the past 14 years may be partly to blame for the severity of the floods.

Drought tends to harden the soil, she said. When rains do come, less of the water can absorb into the ground, so it quickly runs off the land.

Similarly, fires can lead to worse flooding, because they remove vegetation that can slow down and trap rainfall, Postel said. (See “Fire and Rain: The One-Two Punch of Flooding After Blazes.”) In 2012, the Boulder area was afflicted by theFlagstaff Fire. In 2010, the Fourmile Canyon fire caused damage to Boulder County worth $217 million.”

Read more: National Geographic