Controls of outbursts of moraine-dammed lakes in the greater Himalayan region

Fischer, Melanie; Korup, Oliver; Veh, Georg; Walz, Ariane

Glacial lakes in the Hindu Kush–Karakoram–Himalayas–Nyainqentanglha (HKKHN) region have grown rapidly in number and area in past decades, and some dozens have drained in catastrophic glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). Estimating regional susceptibility of glacial lakes has largely relied on qualitative assessments by experts, thus motivating a more systematic and quantitative appraisal. Before the backdrop of current climate-change projections and the potential of elevation-dependent warming, an objective and regionally consistent assessment is urgently needed. We use an inventory of 3390 moraine-dammed lakes and their documented outburst history in the past four decades to test whether elevation, lake area and its rate of change, glacier-mass balance, and monsoonality are useful inputs to a probabilistic classification model. We implement these candidate predictors in four Bayesian multi-level logistic regression models to estimate the posterior susceptibility to GLOFs. We find that mostly larger lakes have been more prone to GLOFs in the past four decades regardless of the elevation band in which they occurred. We also find that including the regional average glacier-mass balance improves the model classification. In contrast, changes in lake area and monsoonality play ambiguous roles. Our study provides first quantitative evidence that GLOF susceptibility in the HKKHN scales with lake area, though less so with its dynamics. Our probabilistic prognoses offer improvement compared to a random classification based on average GLOF frequency. Yet they also reveal some major uncertainties that have remained largely unquantified previously and that challenge the applicability of single models. Ensembles of multiple models could be a viable alternative for more accurately classifying the susceptibility of moraine-dammed lakes to GLOFs.

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Fischer, Melanie / Korup, Oliver / Veh, Georg / et al: Controls of outbursts of moraine-dammed lakes in the greater Himalayan region. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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