Tibet has been known for its stable glaciers; however an avalanche earlier this year created quite a stir after it killed 9 with researchers baffled about what may have caused this in an otherwise stable plateau.
It turns out climate change is to blame here as well. Researchers have published a study in Journal of Glaciology wherein they have revealed that the deadly avalanche that dumped 70 million tons of ice that broke off from Aru glacier in the mountains into a valley below the mountains of western Tibet may have been caused by changing climate.
Scientists that that climate change could be blamed for the terrifying events that have already taken lives of nine nomadic yak herders and chances are that other glaciers in the region are at risk with there being no way of predicting when such a disaster would strike again.
An international team of scientists carried out a forensic analysis of the avalanche. The team revealed that the most important fact about the avalanche is that it lasted only four or five minutes (according to witnesses), yet it managed to bury 3.7 square miles of the valley floor in that time. One of the possible reasons behind so much quantity of ice getting dumped in the valley could be that it received assistance from meltwater at the base of the glacier – sort of lubrication for the ice to flow down the mountain at tremendous speeds.
Increasing temperatures may be causing the ice to melt beneath the glaciers across the region and this could cause such disasters in future notes the team, however, predicting such an event isn’t possible.
For their forensic analysis, the team used satellite data and GPS to get precise measurements of how much ice fell in the first avalanche and the area it covered. They’ve since pieced together more answers by working with computer modelers who were able to replicate the avalanche virtually. In those simulations, the only condition that led to an avalanche was the presence of meltwater.
Scientists are still not sure about its source; however, they point out that given that the average temperature at the nearest weather station has risen by about 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over the last 50 years it is most likely that snow and ice are melting and the resulting water is seeping down beneath the glacier.
Glacial collapse is unprecedented in western Tibet, which for decades has resisted the effects of climate change while glaciers in southern and eastern Tibet have melted at an accelerating rate. Increased snowfall has even led to the expansion of some glaciers in western Tibet—and the extra snowfall likely played some role in the avalanche by creating additional meltwater, said Lide Tian, a glaciologist at the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and lead author of the paper.