Satellite identifies potential danger atop Himalayas


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BANGALORE: A satellite-based study has indicated that a huge glacial lake has formed atop the Himalayas in Sikkim with a "very high" potential for it to burst and create devastation downstream.

Analysis of satellite data has revealed that the lake has formed at the snout of South Lhonak glacier, that is about 7,000 metres high on the mountain in the northeastern state.

The lake, bounded by loose soil and debris, could cause havoc downstream if it ruptures, according to scientists at the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) in Hyderabad.

In a report published in the latest issue of the journal Current Science, NRSC researchers Babu Govindha Raj and co-workers say the glacial lake is about 630 metres wide and 20 metres deep. It covers an area of 98.7 hectares and contains 19.7 billion litres of water. A sudden outburst "can create devastating floods downstream," they warn, adding the probability of this happening "was very high".

They, however, note this is only their preliminary assessment and more field studies are required to confirm the hazardous potential of this high-altitude lake. Based on this study the scientists estimate that the Lhonak glacier had receded 1.9 km between 1962 and 2008.