Himalayan lakes called earthquake threat

May 16, 2011 at 10:14 PM
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DEHRADUN, India, May 16 (UPI) -- Glacial lakes in the Himalayas could threaten population centers if they were ruptured by earthquakes, scientists say.

The risk to settlements and infrastructure downstream in the Hindu-Kush-Himalayas region is difficult to assess, researchers say, but the Himalayan region is dotted with glacial lakes and is in a seismically active zone that records suggest is overdue for a large temblor, the BBC reported Sunday.

Melting glaciers have caused some of those lakes to grow at an alarming rate, scientists said, and some are already at risk of rupturing.

The U.N. Environment Program reports there have been at least 35 glacial lake outburst events in Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and China during the last century.

"Such a disaster is very much possible, more so, when we are expecting a big earthquake in the region now," said Sushil Kumar, a geophysicist with the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in India.

"If the acceleration is very high in the epicenter of the earthquake, everything will be in the air as things will not be stable," he said. "So, naturally the liquids like waters in glacial lakes will burst out."

Glaciologists say the period of recent glacial melting that formed most of the new glacial lakes in the Himalayas began in the 1950s.

"And when the last earthquakes hit the region, there were barely any glacial lakes in the Himalaya region," Kumar said.

The last big earthquake to hit the region occurred in 1934.

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