Glacial Outburst Flood — Human Hothouse Displaces Hundreds in Tajikistan

If you lived during the 1880s, when the globe was one degree Celsius cooler than it is now, you’d see far less in the way of heatwaves. But an immense vomiting of greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere and oceans by fossil fuel industry since that time has greatly multiplied these periods of extreme temperatures. So much so that you are now four times more likely to experience a heatwave anywhere on the globe at any given time than you were 135 years ago.

Heatwaves, depending on their intensity, can have serious consequences. The most direct impact is due to the excess heat itself. In the more extreme instances, heatwaves during recent years have featured an ominous capacity to hospitalize tens of thousands. These heat stroke victims, in the worst cases, perish. Such was the case for India and Pakistan this year where hundreds tragically lost their lives due to the impact of increased heat alone.

But if heatwaves occur in regions where glaciers still exist, the impact can be even more profound.

Glacier Outburst Flood In Tajikistan

(“The lake disappeared and turned to salt…” Melting of glaciers in Tajikistan is having a far-reaching impact. This UN-based program describes how the lives of Tajikistan’s people are being threatened by water loss due to glacier decline. But the impacts of glacier outburst floods can be more directly destructive.)

In Tajikistan, the heat is bringing with it a great decline in high elevation glaciers. Some have already disappeared. It’s a loss resulting in severe impacts to both energy and water security for the country. But perhaps even more disturbing is what happens when water is suddenly released from the dwindling glaciers.

Such was the case with Tajikistan this month. Beginning on July 16, an oppressive heatwave settled over this Central Asian nation. Temperatures rocketed to record levels. Baking its broad mountains — valleys, slopes and glaciers alike.

Crammed between Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Tajikistan squats along the northwest boundary of the Tibetan Plateau. The upthrust of great glacier-capped peaks tower over this country. Peaks whose heads are loaded with a great volume of ice that is now being forced to rapidly melt.

This month’s record heatwave dealt a terrible blow to that ice. The glaciers, of which Tajikistan boasts 8,492, were already greatly weakened by a 3 degree Celsius temperature increase over the past five years. All it took was the shove of the most recent temperature surge to push some of these to the breaking point. By Tuesday, a great outburst flood had ripped through the mountain valleys of the Central Asia country. The outburst flood waters roared out, overtopping rivers — washing away more than 50 homes, cutting off major roadways, and driving 620 persons into government disaster shelters.

Unfortunately, this most recent climate change mass casualty event may be just one of many. In Tajikistan, a mud dam has developed along the path of major glacial melt. Water pressure is building behind the dam. Should it release, more than 30,000 people will be in the path of the outburst flood.

Risk of Outburst Flooding Near Large Glaciers is a Global Hazard

All throughout the Tibetan Plateau region glacial outburst floods related to human-caused warming are on the rise (see the glacial megaflood). As much as 70 percent of the ice within the great Himalayan glaciers could melt out by 2100 under business as usual fossil fuel burning. The result would be a crescendo of glacial outburst floods followed by a period of drastically increased aridity for the lands around Tibet.

Alaska. Prince William Sound, waterfall flows from under Blackstone Glacier.

Alaska. Prince William Sound, waterfall flows from under Blackstone Glacier.

(The high elevation of glaciers combined with the vastness of their captured water and the often steep grades upon which they perch can generate violent flooding in the event of rapid melt. In many instances, silt from glacial outflows can develop a dam downstream of the glacial flood. Such dams are often unstable and can be subject to catastrophic collapse. In the worst cases, ice dams can form in the interior sections of very large ice sheets — such as those seen in Greenland and Antarctica. Glacial outburst floods due to such melt and ice dam formation in the major ice sheets are catastrophic events of geological scale and impact. Image source: ADT.)

Glacial outburst floods are sudden, powerful, violent, and difficult to predict. They are limited only by the amount of water the glaciers themselves release — ice masses that hold volumes of water often measured in cubic kilometers. The drastic impacts and terrible violence due to this kind of flooding was also recently witnessed during 2013 in Kedarnath, India. And what we see in Tajikistan and India during recent years is, sadly, just a taste of what’s to come in a fossil fuel emissions warmed world.

Finally, in this narrative, we cannot ignore potential glacial outburst flood impacts from melting over the Greenland Ice Sheet and Antarctica. And unlike Tibetan glacial melt, potential outburst flood events issuing from Greenland or Antarctica are a hazard of global scope. Such events would likely be driven by extended periods of rainfall over the ice during summer heating events. An ominous melt-driving phenomena that science is just now starting to track.


Heatwave + Glacial Melt Forces Hundreds to Flee in Tajikistan

Human Hothouse Death Toll Climbs to 2300 in India

Wet Bulb at 33 C

Freakishly High Temperatures Trigger Melt, Mudslides, Flooding in Tajikistan

The Glacial Megaflood


Amplified Melt and Flow of Greenland Ice Sheet Driven by Late Summer Rainfall

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Leave a comment


  1. In regard to Hansen et al, I wonder how “extended periods of rainfall over the ice during summer heating events” factors into increasing Greenland’s melting relative to Antartica. So the big advantage of Greenland having more landlocked glaciers kinda of doesn’t matter in melting from above scenarios, right?

    • Seems that the surface melt, via moulins, drains down to base of glaciers to float them and reduce friction. Still need non-landlocked glacier to enable gravity to pull glacier down and out. So, unless i am missing something the extra rain will primarily just accelerate the loss of the glaciers that are “open” to the sea.

      • The mechanism is dependent on a few factors.

        1. Greenland ice is primarily grounded below sea level in the central basin.
        2. Rainfall melt hits the edge zones first.
        3. Basal Melt weakens the ice in the channel regions and accelerates flow there.
        4. Topography and glacial elevation enhance burst outflow hazard during periods off high elevation warming.

        For glacial outburst floods over large ice sheets there are two primary mechanisms:

        1. Melt penetrates to open sub glacial lakes to the surface. The result is the formation of a growing multiseasonal lake within the ice sheet. As the lake grows, it approaches the ice edge, creating an ice dam feature. Any stress to the ice dam by atmosphere, ocean, or rainfall can result in a rupture and large glacial outburst flood.
        2. A large number of large melt lakes form in a daisy chain pattern atop a sloped glacial surface. Significant rainfall over these lakes results in overtopping. Overtopping cascades from higher elevation glacial lakes to lower elevation lakes in chain. The result is a wave-like propagation of water down the ice face that hits an exponential growth curve.

        We have geological evidence of both type 1 and type 2 large glacial outburst flood events from the melt period during the end of the last ice age. The melt of Laurentide, for example, was so violent in some of these outbursts as to deposit 100-300 foot tall hills of silt in the Central and Northeastern U.S. And to embed trees the outburst waves uprooted in Alaska along the facing cliffs of islands off the sea of Irkutsk 500 feet above the sea level of the time. In other words, the outburst flood waves were large and powerful enough to carry these trees 3,000 miles and then to smash them into cliffs 500 feet up in the air. If you look at the record for North American animal and plant remains from this period, what you often find near the glacier footprint is a slurry like mix of bones, plant material, and other organic matter all ground together as if by some primordial blender. The slurry dates to the time of melt. This speaks to the violence inherent to the very large outburst floods of the period.

        Melt lakes atop large glaciers that are basically 1-2 kilometers tall is a physical hazard you really, really don’t want to start messing with. Makes the basal melt we see now look tame by comparison.

      • Wow thanks for your detailed response. So given the findings from Doyle et al, Greenland could see sizable losses from type 2 outburst floods (daisy chain pattern) and these could be underestimated by Hansen et al. – unless perhaps the cold freshwater lens from all the melt causes regional cooling that reduces rain making the overall effect nominal over time.

        • Bingo.

          My view is that ice sheet collapse is a messy process. You get basal melt flux that pushes a Heinrich Event, likely cooling the air and preventing the catastrophic surface melt pulse for a time. Eventually the feedback draws most of the easily accesible ice out, allowing the air to warm. Since energy is accumulating rapidly in the ocean/atmosphere, you could get a rapid swing back to warming and major surface melt. But now the ice sheet is less resilient. Now albedo is lower and the ice is less contiguous. Compounding impact as surface melt re asserts.

          There is some danger of type 2 in a lead up to Heinrich event 1. And that depends on how rapidly the ice – ocean interplay asserts. So, ironically, the more time it takes for the basal outflow feedback to come into play, the more risk of a type 2 surface melt pulse from Greenland in the run up.

          I think this is one reason why Andy has been so keen to watch the ice this year. The melt was stronger than I expected for the Greenland surface. AMO was negative. AMOC weakening. Cool pool in N Atlantic. And RRR was contributing to trough development through Hudson and Baffin. So the surface melt this year was remarkable given those conditions.

  2. Anecdotal report: Temperatures have jumped back up to triple digits throughout much of the U.S. Pacific Northwest with Medford, Oregon expected to approach 109F by Friday.

  3. Carmelo

     /  July 30, 2015

    Seaweed inundation in Cancun down south to Tulum in Quintana Roo state of Mexico.

  4. Carmelo

     /  July 30, 2015

    Not to pile up on Mexico (no pun intended), these seaweed/algae invasion is happening from Texas to Cancun to Trinidad Tobago.and pretty much around the Caribbean area. Im just not being aware but these been happening since March and I almost went there for some playa time but didn’t went thru.
    Cause of invasion: Higher sea temps.
    More about the topic-

    • Colorado Bob

       /  July 31, 2015

      Carmelo –
      Really great find. Many thanks for it. Really creepy pictures . I got to think that sargassum is good for the garden.

  5. Jeremy

     /  July 30, 2015

    Tom Lewis – always worth listening to.
    Press play.

  6. Colorado Bob

     /  July 30, 2015

    Poor Nepal –

    KATHMANDU, Nepal — Landslides set off by heavy rain struck several villages in Kaski, a popular tourist area in western Nepal, killing at least 33 people, a senior local official said on Thursday.

    At least 10 other people were missing, and the death toll could rise, said the official, Krishna Bahadur Raut. Many houses were buried, he said. Most of the 33 deaths were in Kaski, but two people were killed in the Myagdi district and one person was found dead in the Baglung district


  7. Colorado Bob

     /  July 30, 2015

    Rio Olympic Events Will Be Held in Water That Is “Basically Raw Sewage”

    Athletes in next year’s Summer Olympics here will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found.


    Brazil has no “burdensome government regulations”.

    • Wow. Just nuts. Gotta feel it for those athletes.

      Bob’s right… Pay attention, republicans, this is what ‘privatized’ water smells like.

    • Andy in SD

       /  July 31, 2015

      Does that mean rowing is now the “poop -n- scoop?”

    • The regulations do exist. They just aren’t followed. “Law” is considered an “option” in Brasil.

      • Would be hard to set precedent and hold to account under that kind of legal system. Sounds more like –suggestion of law– rather than rule of law.

        Here we have a somewhat of similar problem. One half of government considers all the rules for clean water or clean air to be ‘onerous’ and is therefore constantly trying to get rid of or allow their constituents (polluters) to ignore them.

  8. Colorado Bob

     /  July 31, 2015

    From up the tread –

    Satellite data suggest the amount of sargassum in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and Atlantic may hit an all-time high in 2015.

    This is like the pine beetle attack in the western forests of North America. A very small creature jumps to the new state long before the “slow breeders” can adapt.

    • Carmelo

       /  July 31, 2015

      The Sargasso Sea, the only named Sea in the planet without a coastline, formed by atlantic gyres, are the source of these seaweeds. Basically the gyre has become nearly undone due to ocean heating and now its dispersing the seaweeds in every direction.

  9. Colorado Bob

     /  July 31, 2015

    I and all my friends buried our close friend today . The best part, I drove by Buddy Holly’s grave to get there. At the grave side, I said, “I have more love ones in here than above ground.’
    An old friend next to me said-
    “Me too and I get along better with the ones out here.”

    • Condolences for your loss, Bob. Sadly, I’m starting to know how that feels. My grandmother is 95 and still loving being alive. I honestly just don’t want to lose anyone else. They take parts of me with them when they go.

    • Abel Adamski

       /  July 31, 2015

      My condolences also Bob, and yes Rob, for me my close family are gone over the years, as much an impact as that was, when my everything for 36years also passed we were together for twice as long as I lived at home with my parents and with a far closer bond, , yes there are wonderful memories but the hole will take time to adjust to.
      Love your nan, but recognise that someday it will be her time.
      There is another something we pass onto, I get the little messages every now and then and our cats were at first a little frightened when she visits, but now comforted

  10. labmonkey2

     /  July 31, 2015

    spotted this with a search. Peru could lose glaciers in 20 years (projected). Already lost 10 meters in just the last year.
    We already know Brazil is in a heap of trouble, so it’s no surprise that other regions in SA are also feeling the effects. Some great scenic views in the video, though.

  11. – More confirmation of what has been discussed here.

    TAG Fish Creek Fire, Alaska, Wildfires, U.S. Forest Service, Canada, Permafrost

    Large Alaskan Wildfires Can Have Considerable Effect on Climate Change

    Massive wildfires are occurring more frequently in Alaska over the past couple of decades, and the increased rate has caused a major concern for many environmental experts, who believe that the resulting burned material could add to the worsening effects of carbon emissions in the air.

    U.S. Forest Service (USFS) research ecologist Teresa Hollingsworth said that the Fish Creek Fire was a “different kind of fire.” While the fire is mostly finished burning the brush and trees above the ground, it has now proceeded to burn the organic material found below ground. Hollingsworth said that these organic materials go several meters deep underground. Hollingsworth explained that what makes wildfires in areas located in higher latitudes, such as Alaska, is that it is not finished with burning only the vegetation on the surface.

    • Exhausted forest firefighters refuse to sing O Canada for Harper

      KELOWNA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper is getting slammed on social media for having a group of front-line firefighters pulled out of the smoky hills near this bustling B.C. city so they could pose with him for a patriotic, pre-election picture.

      But things didn’t go quite as planned for Harper’s advance team of organizers.

      The selected firefighters were so tired and annoyed that they just silently watched Harper as he waved his arms around like a conductor and tried to get them to sing along with him in a rousing chorus of O Canada.

      None of the group sang or even hummed along. exhausted-forest

    • That’s a tough bit of news…

      OT: looking at a peak atmospheric methane mean of 1833 ppb. This is already 6 ppb higher than last year. Seasonal peak is in the Fall. So we could be looking at a 10-12 ppb jump from last year. That’s a rather bad rate of increase. Not catastrophic, but certainly not good either.

      • Andy in SD

         /  July 31, 2015

        I’ve been looking for any news regarding “mystery holes” in Siberia this summer and haven’t seen anything yet. Either way, that is not a shocker as the trend is pretty established, unfortunately.

      • rustj2015

         /  July 31, 2015

        Not mystery holes:
        From abynormal at Naked Capitalism/Links:
        a teeenie detail about Shell –Last week, the Obama administration granted federal permits that clear the way for the oil company to begin drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The company is only permitted to drill the top sections of its wells because it lacks the equipment to cap the wells in case of emergency. The ice breaker carrying the required capping stack for the wells, had been receiving repairs to its damaged hull in Portland and is now trying to leave the port. Once the Fennica is at Shell’s drill site, Shell can reapply for federal approval to drill into hydrocarbon zones in the Chukchi Sea.
        UPDATE 6:48 PM PDT: The 13 #ShellNo climbers have come off the bridge. Now all eyes on Pres. Obama to save the Arctic.

        “To all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.” Obama :`(

        • So they’re going to be drilling through the hydrate impregnated zones of the Chukchi without blowout preventers? They really are insane.

          Someone’s gotta stop these idiots. But who will? Who’s got the guts and the clout to stop S’hell? If Obama won’t step up, then who among us? After Greenpeace and the protesters’ valiant efforts, then who? There’s no one. We are it and, in this case, we have failed. So chalk another likely victory up to the fossil fueled earth destroyers and a loss for all the rest of creation.

          A lot of people in drought zones these days have been futilely praying for rain. I am with them now. I find myself compelled to futilely pray for a storm.

        • Bring it on.

    • More here:

      Drought May Stunt Forests’ Ability to Capture Carbon

      • – I pull a quote from the CC article not to argue against drought affected trees but to reemphasize that trees, urban and forest, suffer greatly when they intercept and absorb aerosol pollution. Any inventory of the causes of stressed trees dealing in carbon storage, or anything else, must include air pollution (usually fossil fuel) as a significant factor.

        CC quote: ” Forests are sometimes called the lungs of the earth — they breathe in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and store it…”

        Here’s another source to quote, ” Trees absorb CO2 through photosynthesis to produce oxygen for us to breathe, and intercept air borne particles on leaf surfaces. They also play a critical role in capturing the six common air pollutants and toxic gases: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and lead.

        A single tree can absorb 10 pounds of air pollutants per year.
        The average healthy, mature tree produces roughly 260 pounds of oxygen annually. The average person consumes 386 pounds of oxygen per year. Two trees provide enough oxygen for one person per year.
        Chicago’s urban forest (more than 3.5 million trees) removes about 888 tons of air pollution per year.”
        It is agreed that our atmosphere and climate is suffering greatly from toxic FF emissions.
        I add that if you have a toxic atmosphere then count on it that you also have a toxic landscape — trees included. The lighter and more buoyant elements go rise high to do their damage, while the heavier ones fall back to Earth as fallout — AKA ‘deposition’. And, all are toxic to one degree or another.


        • Good points, DT. We’re hitting the trees hard in so many ways. And the majority of it due to one cause — fossil fuel burning.

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