EXCLUSIVE: Flooded Indian glacial lake ready to get early warning system

NEW DELHI, Oct 6 (Reuters) – Scientists and government officials were working on a warning system for a glacial flood in a Himalayan lake in northeast India.

The hilly state of Sikkim was plunged into chaos on Wednesday as heavy rains and avalanches killed at least 40 people. It was one of the region’s worst disasters in 50 years and left dozens missing on Friday.

Officials involved in the project told Reuters that the first part of the system, a camera to monitor the water level of Lonac Lake and weather instruments, was installed last month.

If the warning system had been fully operational, it would have given people more time to evacuate, scientists said.

Details of the Lake Lonagh warning system have not been disclosed before.

“It’s pretty ridiculous,” said Simon Allen, a geoscientist at the University of Zurich who is involved in the project. “It’s completely unfortunate that it happened two weeks after our team was there”.

He said they plan to add a tripwire sensor that can trigger if the lake starts to erupt. It is usually connected to an alarm system that alerts the occupants to evacuate immediately.

“The Indian government is not ready to do it this year, so it is being done as a two-step process,” he said.

Officials and residents would have had 90 minutes of warning time, according to simulations conducted by scientists when planning an early warning system at Lake Lhonak. This would have allowed a hydroelectric plant to open its doors earlier.

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“90 minutes is certainly enough, people could have been evacuated safely and the gates of the hydroelectric dam could have been opened,” Allen said.

The exact design of the system is still under development, an Indian official with direct knowledge of the project told Reuters.

The surveillance devices installed were supposed to transmit data to authorities, but the camera lost power for an unknown reason in late September, said a source at the Swiss Embassy, ​​which supported the project.

As climate change warms high mountain ranges, many communities face dangerous glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). Lakes holding water from melted glaciers would burst and send streams rushing down mountain valleys.

By 2022, more than 200 such lakes now pose a very high risk to Himalayan communities in India, Pakistan, China, Nepal and Bhutan. Research.

In recent years, glacial flood early warning systems have been used in China, Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan.

An Indian official with direct knowledge of the project said the plan was to test India’s first glacial flood warning systems at Lonak Lake and Shako Cho near Sikkim before expanding to other vulnerable lakes.

Scientists have said for years that both lakes are at risk of flooding, but the design process and the search for funding have passed time without progress.

Kamal Kishore, a senior official at India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), said India plans to install early warning systems in several glacial lakes.

He did not respond to further questions on the Lonak project.

However, Farooq Azam, a glaciologist at the Indian Institute of Technology, Indore, noted that even when the system is in place, the potential benefits are not always clear.

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Reporting by Ali Withers in Copenhagen, Gloria Dickey in Amsterdam and Shivam Patel in Delhi; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Gloria Dickey reports on climate and environmental issues for Reuters. She lives in London. His interests include biodiversity loss, Arctic science, the cryosphere, international climate diplomacy, climate change and public health, and human-wildlife conflict. He previously worked as a freelance environmental journalist for 7 years, writing for publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, Scientific American, and Wired magazine. Dickey was a 2022 finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists in the International Reporting category for his climate report from Svalbard. He is also a teacher at WW Norton.

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