New Stories from “the Third Pole”

The Great Himalayas. (Shreyasvijay11, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Jim Brace-Thompson

We’ve all heard of the North Pole and the South Pole. But “the Third Pole”? Huh?

That is how the Himalayas have been described because these mighty mountains contain the largest ice mass outside of our polar regions. In an article in the journal Science, Tanuj Shukla and Indra S. Sen call for greater use of real-time satellite monitoring of glacial lake catchments to predict and prepare for catastrophic flood events due to all that ice.

Such monitoring is especially important in a time of global warming and uncertainty. For instance, it’s noted that the number of glacial lakes has increased substantially in recent decades, as have “extreme events.” Such events often have had catastrophic effects on people living within and downstream from the Himalayas, sometimes resulting in thousands of deaths.

Along with increased potential for flood events, the Himalayan region also is vulnerable to landslides that could be lubricated by rapid snowmelt in an area already at high seismological risk. So says N. Purnachandra Rao (National Geophysical Research Institute, India) and colleagues. For instance, earlier this year a glaciated ridge in the western Himalayas gave way in a landslide that killed more than 100 souls while also destroying two hydroelectric projects. In addition to the satellite monitoring called for by Shukla and Sen, Rao and colleagues call for installation of a dense network of ground-based seismometers to assist in early warning of earthquake events and accompanying rockslides.

Both studies emphasize the importance of “real-time” monitoring if we are to mitigate or at least minimize damage and casualties in an area already long prone to geological hazard from natural Earth processes.

Author: Jim Brace-Thompson

JimBraceThompson Jim began and oversees the AFMS Badge Program for kids, has been inducted into the National Rockhound & Lapidary Hall of Fame within their Education Category, and is the president-elect for the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies.
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