Hongu Expedition Video
Audio Slideshow: Glacial Lakes Risk Assessment
About the Project
NGS/Waitt grantee Alton Byers—working with The Mountain Institute (TMI), Hokkaido University, Japan; the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Nepal; and the American Alpine Club (AAC)—launched a scientific field expedition to the remote Hongu Valley of Makalu-Barun National Park in eastern Nepal to scientifically assess the condition of nine glacial lakes that have grown significantly over the past 20 years as a result of global warming.
A range of field methods was used, and expedition results provided valuable insight to existing analyses of the valley based entirely on remote sensing. Lake 464, located at the base of Chamlang's precipitous north face, was considered to be of concern because of its size, depth, volume, terminal moraine, and potential outburst "triggers," such as overhanging glaciers or ice. Considerable damage to downstream population centers could be expected in the event of a flood (e.g., Cheskam and beyond).
The team made two trips to assess the dangers of the lakes in the Hongu Valley. Methods included analyses of features as they relate to the likelihood of outburst floods; determination of the altitude of lower limit of permafrost to analyze the relationship between permafrost and moraine dam integrity; paleohydrological and sedimentological assessments of possible overflow events in the past; bathymetric surveys of lakes; and interviews with local people.
The expedition also included an analysis of prospective downstream impacts in the event of a catastrophic glacial lake outburst flood between the upper Hongu Valley and the village of Cheskam, 31 miles (50 kilometers) to the south. Methods included the use of Terrain Unit Analysis to classify landscapes into probable damage categories; inventories of landscapes and infrastructure encountered and their sensitivities and vulnerabilities to catastrophic floods; and in-depth interviews with local farmers, shepherds, villages, and government officials.
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