Saturday, April 29, 2017

How Climate Scientists Can Save Lives by Predicting Glacial Collapse By Bob Berwyn

Some global warming impacts, like sea level rise, creep up on you a millimeter at a time. But others hit fast and hard, like a pair of 2016 avalanches in Tibet, when two giant glaciers crumbled, unleashing walls of ice that raced downhill at 120 kilometers per hour.

The first of the two avalanches, last July, killed nine yak herders along with scores of their animals when it ran six kilometers down a slope of the Aru Mountains of the Tibetan Plateau. A second avalanche, just 2.6 kilometers south and nearly as big, broke loose last September. Each of the Tibet avalanches spread icy slurry across across more than eight square kilometers, piling enough debris to fill 2,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

“That one such event should occur is remarkable; two is unprecedented. The most likely explanation for the Tibet avalanches, and the associated glacial collapse, is climate change,” as University of Sheffield researcher Dave Petley wrote in an American Geophysical Union blog post last year.
Researchers describe these patterns as “a new kind of glacier collapse never documented before.”

Learning how and why the slides happened when they did has a very practical purpose. With enough information, experts could provide early warning for future large-scale glacier avalanches, potentially saving lives, according to French glaciologist Etienne Berthier, who spoke on April 25th at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna, presenting an abstract of ongoing research into the Tibet avalanches.

“Other glaciers in the same range farther north have also been surging recently, which is an early warning sign. Could more such glaciers collapse in the future? We now have a recipe for how such disasters can happen,” Berthier said… read more: