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Bhutan

How Melting Glaciers And 'Mountain Tsunamis' Threaten Himalayan Kingdom Of Bhutan

Melting glaciers in the Himalayas put the small Kingdom of Bhutan at risk. Not only are the “frozen reservoirs” a fundamental water source, but the melting can also cause GLOFS – aka: 'mountain tsunamis' - killer flash floods that occur

On the Druk Path Trek between Timphu and Paro in Bhutan
On the Druk Path Trek between Timphu and Paro in Bhutan
Julien Bouissou

THIMPU -- The Kingdom of Bhutan, tucked between India and China in the foothills of the Himalaya mountain range, is paying the price for global industrialization. To the north of the country, a chain of Himalayan glaciers suffer increasingly unstable rates of melting and concerns about the long-term viability of the ice in the face of global warming.

Water flows from these melting glaciers until it breaks the natural ice dams that hold it in place. That, in turn, can result in devastating floods like the one that occurred in 1994, when a torrent of mud killed dozens of people in Bhutan and wiped out entire villages. Western scientists call this phenomenon a glacial lake outburst flood, or GLOF. With 24 of its 2,674 glacial lakes considered unstable, Bhutan is preparing in the coming years for even deadlier "mountain tsunamis," as the phenomenon is sometimes referred to.

Bhutan is one of the first countries in the world to make GLOF prevention a national priority. In 2005, the government received environmental protection funds financed in part by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The money was earmarked in part to help Bhutan drain water from the Thorthormi glacial lake and reinforce its natural dams. But at that high altitude, the work is difficult, dangerous and ultimately costly.

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