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‘Millions’ in India, Pakistan at risk of flooding from glacial lakes: What a new study says

GS-1: Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc.


A new study‘Glacial lake outburst floods threaten millions globally’published in in the journal ‘Nature’warns that about 15 million people worldwide are at risk of sudden and deadly flooding from expanding glacial lakes caused by global warming. India, Pakistan, Peru, and China are the countries with more than half of the people who could be affected. 

Shrinking glaciers lead to the formation of glacial lakes, and when the water is released, it causes flooding downstream, known as glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs).


The risk of GLOFs has multiplied due to climate change, though they have been occurring since the ice age. According to a study from 2020, the number and total area of glacial lakes worldwide have increased by roughly 50% since 1990.


Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs)

  • Glacial lakes, which are bodies of water located in front of, on top of, or beneath a melting glacier, become increasingly hazardous as they grow in size. This is due to the fact that these lakes are often dammed by unstable ice or sediment made up of loose rock and debris.
  • If the boundary holding them in place were to break, large volumes of water would rapidly flow down the side of mountains, resulting in flooding in areas downstream. 
  • This phenomenon is known as glacial lake outburst floods(GLOFs).
  • Glacial lakes are frequently located in rugged, mountainous areas, making them vulnerable to landslides or ice avalanches that can fall directly into the lakes. This can result in the displacement of water, causing it to overflow the natural dam and flood downstream areas.
  • GLOFs can cause massive destruction of property, infrastructure, and agricultural land, as well as the loss of hundreds of lives, as they often occur with little warning.
  • For example, the flash floods and GLOF triggered by the Chorabari Tal glacial lake in Uttarakhand's Kedarnath in 2013 caused the deaths of thousands of people.


Features of GLOFs

  • GLOFs are characterized by three primary features
  • Sudden water releases 
  • Rapid events lasting from hours to days, and 
  • Large downstream river discharges. 
  • The most severe GLOFs have caused significant landscape changes and affected regional climates by releasing enormous amounts of freshwater into the oceans.


Causes of GLOFs

  • Rapid slope movement into the lake
  • Heavy rainfall/snowmelt
  • Cascade effects triggered by floods from an upstream lake
  • Ice avalanches
  • Earthquakes
  • Melting of ice incorporated in dam/forming the dam
  • Obstruction of subsurface outflow tunnels
  • Long-term dam degradation


Rising Temperatures Increase Risk of Dangerous Glacial Lakes

  • As global temperatures continue to rise, there is a growing risk of larger and more numerous glacial lakes forming due to glacier retreat
  • Additionally, these lakes may be increasingly exposed to potential triggers, such as large landslides or ice avalanches that can cause the natural dam holding the lake to fail and result in GLOFs.
  • As a result, lakes that may not currently pose a threat could become a concern in the future, and new, potentially dangerous lakes may form


Findings of the Study on Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs)

  • Researchers used satellite-derived data and population metrics to identify the areas and communities most in danger from GLOFs.
  • Around 15 million people across the world are at risk of sudden and deadly flooding from glacial lakes that are expanding and increasing in numbers due to global warming.
  • Populations in High Mountains Asia (HMA) are the most exposed, with around one million people living within 10 km of a glacial lake.
  • India and Pakistan make up one-third of the total number of people globally exposed to GLOFs, with around three million people in India and around two million people in Pakistan.
  • Social vulnerability is a key factor in glacial flood risks in addition to the size and number of glacial lakes in an area.
  • The most dangerous catchment in the world is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan.
  • Areas with a large number of glacial lakes like Greenland and Canada have very few people vulnerable to GLOFs due to low population and corruption levels.
  • Peru ranks third globally in danger levels, with glacial lakes across the Andes increasing by 93% in the past two decades due to climate change.


Way Forward

  • Preventing GLOFs is a complex issue and requires multiple solutions.
  • Limiting climate change and keeping warming under 1.5 degree Celsius is crucial to slow the growth of glacial lakes.
  • Even if all emissions are stopped today, GLOF hazards will continue to increase for several decades due to the ice loss that is already 'locked in'.
  • Effective measures need to be taken by working with national and regional governments as well as communities themselves.
  • Local-level efforts should be made to find appropriate measures to protect threatened populations.


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Fact File

AI is transcribing SC proceedings: How is it happening, and why?

  • The Supreme Court is using Artificial Intelligence to transcribe its proceedings live, in a first-of-its-kind project. 
  • The transcription is being done using the Teres platform by Nomology Technology Private Limited, and will be shared with lawyers for verification and uploaded on the SC website every evening. 
  • The court is taking steps towards greater transparency, with this being the second major decision after the livestreaming of proceedings before Constitution Benches
  • The idea totranscribe hearings was suggested by senior advocate Indira Jaising in a plea seeking live telecast of court proceedings.

India’s UPI and Singapore’s PayNow integrated: What this means, who benefits

  • UPI, India's fast payment system, and PayNow, Singapore's fast payment system, have been integrated to allow for faster cross-border remittances between the two countries.

Unified Payments Interface (UPI)

  • UPI is India's mobile-based fast payment system that enables customers to make round-the-clock payments instantly using a Virtual Payment Address (VPA) created by the customer.
  • UPI supports both Person-to-Person (P2P) and Person-to-Merchant (P2M) payments.
  • It eliminates the risk of sharing bank account details by the remitter.


  • PayNow is a fast payment system in Singapore that enables peer-to-peer funds transfer service available to retail customers through participating banks and Non-Bank Financial Institutions (NFIs) in Singapore.
  • It allows users to send and receive instant funds from one bank or e-wallet account to another in Singapore using just their mobile number, Singapore National Registration Identity Card (NRIC)/Foreign Identification Number (FIN), or VPA.

Why was the UPI-PayNow linkage initiated?

  • Cross-border retail payments are generally less transparent and more expensive than domestic transactions, and the linkage was initiated in September 2021 to facilitate faster, more efficient and transparent cross-border transactions relating to trade, travel and remittances between the two countries.

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