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Volume 12, issue 4 | Copyright
The Cryosphere, 12, 1195-1209, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 09 Apr 2018

Research article | 09 Apr 2018

Climate change and the global pattern of moraine-dammed glacial lake outburst floods

Stephan Harrison1, Jeffrey S. Kargel2, Christian Huggel4, John Reynolds5, Dan H. Shugar6, Richard A. Betts1,7, Adam Emmer8,11, Neil Glasser9, Umesh K. Haritashya10, Jan Klimeš12, Liam Reinhardt1, Yvonne Schaub4, Andy Wiltshire7, Dhananjay Regmi13, and Vít Vilímek8 Stephan Harrison et al.
  • 1College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Exeter University, Exeter, UK
  • 2Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA
  • 3Department of Hydrology & Atmospheric Science, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85742, USA
  • 4Department of Geography, University of Zurich, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland
  • 5Reynolds International Ltd, Suite 2, Broncoed House, Broncoed Business Park, Wrexham Road, Mold, Flintshire, UK
  • 6Water, Sediment, Hazards, and Earth-surface Dynamics Laboratory, University of Washington Tacoma, WA, 98402, USA
  • 7Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon, UK
  • 8Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Science, Albertov 6, 128 43 Prague, Czech Republic
  • 9Centre for Glaciology, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Wales, SY23 3DB, Aberystwyth, UK
  • 10Department of Geology, University of Dayton, 300 College Park, Dayton, OH 45469-2364, USA
  • 11Department of Human Dimensions of Global Change, Global Change Research Institute, Czech Academy of Sciences, Bělidla 986/4a, 60300 Brno, Czech Republic
  • 12Department of Engineering Geology, Institute of Rock Structure and Mechanics, Czech Academy of Sciences, V Holešovičkách 41, 182 09 Prague 8, Czech Republic
  • 13Himalayan Research Center, Lainchaur, Kathmandu, Nepal

Abstract. Despite recent research identifying a clear anthropogenic impact on glacier recession, the effect of recent climate change on glacier-related hazards is at present unclear. Here we present the first global spatio-temporal assessment of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) focusing explicitly on lake drainage following moraine dam failure. These floods occur as mountain glaciers recede and downwaste. GLOFs can have an enormous impact on downstream communities and infrastructure. Our assessment of GLOFs associated with the rapid drainage of moraine-dammed lakes provides insights into the historical trends of GLOFs and their distributions under current and future global climate change. We observe a clear global increase in GLOF frequency and their regularity around 1930, which likely represents a lagged response to post-Little Ice Age warming. Notably, we also show that GLOF frequency and regularity – rather unexpectedly – have declined in recent decades even during a time of rapid glacier recession. Although previous studies have suggested that GLOFs will increase in response to climate warming and glacier recession, our global results demonstrate that this has not yet clearly happened. From an assessment of the timing of climate forcing, lag times in glacier recession, lake formation and moraine-dam failure, we predict increased GLOF frequencies during the next decades and into the 22nd century.

Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Most mountain glaciers have receded throughout the last century in response to global climate change. This recession produces a range of natural hazards including glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). We have produced the first global inventory of GLOFs associated with the failure of moraine dams and show, counterintuitively, that these have reduced in frequency over recent decades. In this paper we explore the reasons for this pattern.
Most mountain glaciers have receded throughout the last century in response to global climate...