Tracking Three Decades of Dramatic Glacial Lake Growth

  • Released Monday, August 31, 2020
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Music: "Dew" by Matthew Nicholson [PRS], Suki Jeanette Finn [PRS]

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In the largest-ever study of glacial lakes, researchers using a 30-year satellite data record have found that the volume of these lakes worldwide has increased by about 50% since 1990 as glaciers melt and retreat due to climate change.

Glacial lakes are not stable because they are often dammed by ice or glacial sediment called a moraine, which is loose rock and debris that is pushed to the front and sides of glacier. Rather, they can burst their banks or dams, causing massive floods downstream. These kinds of floods from glacial lakes, also known as glacial lake outburst floods, have been responsible for thousands of deaths over the last century, as well as the destruction of villages, infrastructure and livestock.

Until now climate models that translated glacier melt into sea level change assumed that water from glacier melt is instantaneously transported to the oceans, which presented an incomplete picture. Therefore, understanding how much of glacial meltwater is stored in lakes or groundwater underscores the importance of studying and monitoring glacial lakes worldwide.


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This page was originally published on Monday, August 31, 2020.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at 1:44 PM EDT.


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Papers used in this visualization

Shugar, DH, Burr, A, Haritashya, UK, Kargel, JS, Watson, CS, Kennedy, MC, Bevington, AR, Betts, RA, Harrison, S, Strattman, K. 2020. Rapid worldwide growth of glacial lakes since 1990. Nature Climate Change.