How scientists are using drones to lower the risk of catastrophic flooding from large glacial lakes

image View of Llaca Lake, in Peru, taken from an un-crewed aerial vehicle. (Rodrigo Narro Pérez), Author provided

Early in the morning on Dec. 13, 1941, the citizens of Huaraz, Peru, heard a terrifying rumble echo across the valley. Within minutes, a torrent of water, ice and rocks had poured over the city, destroying a third of it and killing at least 2,000 people.

The natural dam of rocks and loose sediment that had held back Lake Palcacocha had failed. Eighty years later, its collapse remains one of Peru’s most tragic natural disasters.

This type of catastrophic event is known as a “glacial lake outburst flood.” Glacial lakes, such as those found throughout the Cordillera Blanca in the Andean mountain range, are often dammed by glacial moraines that can reach heights of over 100 metres. They are impressive, but they are often unstable.

Heavy rainfall and rock, snow or ice avalanches can raise water levels in moraine-dammed glacial lakes, generating waves that overtop the moraine dam or cause it to collapse, releasing huge amounts of water. These natural disasters are only expected to become more common in Peru — and around the world as climate warming melts glaciers at historically unprecedented rates.

Predicting future floods

This dark history has spurred international research into the stability of the moraines damming Peru’s glacial lakes. The Cordillera Blanca in northern Peru contains the highest concentration of tropical glaciers in the world. Predicting when these outburst floods will occur — and how destructive they will be — is of enormous concern to the over 320,000 people who live downstream.

Twisted steel beams near a picnic table. The twisted remains of a steel bridge destroyed by a glacial lake outburst flood in Iceland in 1996. (Chris 73/Wikimedia Commons), CC BY-SA

Geological engineering models use variables such as the size and volume of the lake, height, width and slope of the moraine dam, and channel and valley dimensions to estimate the stability of the moraine dam and the risk of flood. Unfortunately, these models don’t include much information about the composition of the moraine dam, which can vary signifcantly depending on on its location and mode of formation.

My research, part of a collaboration between McMaster University and Peru’s National Institute for Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (INAIGEM), focuses on establishing the origin of these moraine dams and the physical characteristics of the dams and the lakes they hold back. These features can have considerable influence on the stability of the dam and its potential for failure.

Using UAV to understand the structure of moraine dams

Glaciers create moraines by transporting, depositing and pushing boulders, sands and fine-grained silts and clays along the valley floor and adjacent valley walls, often forming a barrier. But one moraine may be much more stable than another, depending on the materials it contains and how it is formed.

Water may leak through weak points in the moraine’s stacked layers, taking sediment with it, or loose rocks may fall after a disturbance such as an earthquake. These weak points make a complete collapse of the moraine dam more likely. Locating these weak points is an important step in predicting the stability of the lake dams and can allow geoscientists and engineers to design more effective remediation strategies.

My colleagues and I are analyzing the architecture of large lateral moraines, which form along the sides of glaciers, in southern Iceland using un-crewed aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) to collect high-resolution images. We use these images to identify and classify areas of coarse- and fine-grained sediment that may form zones of water leakage and sediment removal and cause the dam to fail. We’ve planned similar high resolution UAV surveys of moraine dams in the Cordillera Blanca for early 2022.

The research will enhance the reliability of predictive models to identify potential glacial lake flood hazards. It will also identify areas where remediation work, such as the building of additional outlet channels or armoured barriers, is most needed to strengthen the moraine.

people standing on a dam overlooking a glacial lake Remediation work done at Llaca Lake, Peru, in 1977 included building a dam. (Rodrigo Narro Pérez), Author provided

This will be particularly important as glaciers melt more quickly, the volume of water held by these natural moraine dams builds, and the destructive power of floods also continues to increase. A recent study by researchers at the University of Calgary showed that the volume of water in glacial lakes has increased by 50 per cent globally since 1990.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, an estimated 165 moraine-dammed glacial lake outburst floods have occurred. In addition, approximately 12,000 deaths worldwide can be attributed directly to glacier floods.

Our research in Peru will provide new insights into moraine dam stability that can be applied to other regions, such as Bolivia, the Himalayas and the Canadian Rockies, which are also experiencing an increased risk of glacial lake outburst floods as climate warming continues to melt glaciers.

About The Author

Rodrigo Narro Pérez, PhD Candidate, School of Earth, Environment and Society, McMaster University
 

Related Books

Climate Adaptation Finance and Investment in California

by Jesse M. Keenan
0367026074This book serves as a guide for local governments and private enterprises as they navigate the unchartered waters of investing in climate change adaptation and resilience. This book serves not only as a resource guide for identifying potential funding sources but also as a roadmap for asset management and public finance processes. It highlights practical synergies between funding mechanisms, as well as the conflicts that may arise between varying interests and strategies. While the main focus of this work is on the State of California, this book offers broader insights for how states, local governments and private enterprises can take those critical first steps in investing in society’s collective adaptation to climate change. Available On Amazon

Nature-Based Solutions to Climate Change Adaptation in Urban Areas: Linkages between Science, Policy and Practice

by Nadja Kabisch, Horst Korn, Jutta Stadler, Aletta Bonn
3030104176
This open access book brings together research findings and experiences from science, policy and practice to highlight and debate the importance of nature-based solutions to climate change adaptation in urban areas. Emphasis is given to the potential of nature-based approaches to create multiple-benefits for society.

The expert contributions present recommendations for creating synergies between ongoing policy processes, scientific programmes and practical implementation of climate change and nature conservation measures in global urban areas. Available On Amazon

A Critical Approach to Climate Change Adaptation: Discourses, Policies and Practices

by Silja Klepp, Libertad Chavez-Rodriguez
9781138056299This edited volume brings together critical research on climate change adaptation discourses, policies, and practices from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Drawing on examples from countries including Colombia, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Russia, Tanzania, Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands, the chapters describe how adaptation measures are interpreted, transformed, and implemented at grassroots level and how these measures are changing or interfering with power relations, legal pluralismm and local (ecological) knowledge. As a whole, the book challenges established perspectives of climate change adaptation by taking into account issues of cultural diversity, environmental justicem and human rights, as well as feminist or intersectional approaches. This innovative approach allows for analyses of the new configurations of knowledge and power that are evolving in the name of climate change adaptation. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

This article originally appeared on The Conversation

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

image
Why the UK is so unprepared for the impacts of climate change
by Liam F. Beiser-McGrath, Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Politics and Director of the PECC Lab, Royal Holloway University of London
The UK is woefully unprepared for the dangers of climate change according to a report from the Climate Change Committee…
Rows of solar panels are separated by a walkable space between them
Solar power and energy storage combo boosts reliability
by Matt Shipman-NC State
New research shows that when a power system combines energy storage and solar power generation, the end result is…
Climate change: what G7 leaders could have said – but didn't
Climate change: what G7 leaders could have said – but didn't
by Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, Director of Oxford Net Zero, University of Oxford
The four-day G7 summit in Cornwall ended with little cause for celebration from anyone worried about climate change.…
How world leaders' high-carbon travel choices could delay climate action
How world leaders' high-carbon travel choices could delay climate action
by Steve Westlake, PhD Candidate, Environmental Leadership, Cardiff University
When UK prime minister Boris Johnson took a one-hour flight to Cornwall for the G7 summit, he was criticised for being…
Maggot burgers can help to solve world hunger
by Paul Brown
Fancy maggot burgers for dinner? Eating animals and plants which revolt many of us could cut hunger caused by climate…
The idea of green growth'is flawed. We must find ways of using and wasting less energy
by Michael (Mike) Joy, Senior Researcher; Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington
As countries explore ways of decarbonising their economies, the mantra of “green growth” risks trapping us in a spiral…
Four reasons why G7 climate finance initiative will struggle against China's Belt and Road
Four reasons why G7 climate finance initiative will struggle against China's Belt and Road
by Karen Jackson, Senior Lecturer in Economics, University of Westminster
During the G7 summit in Cornwall, the group of nations unveiled a global initiative to help low and middle-income…
image
Electric heat pumps use much less energy than furnaces, and can cool houses too – here's how they work
by Robert Brecha, Professor of Sustainability, University of Dayton
To help curb climate change, President Biden has set a goal of lowering U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50%-52% below…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.