Potential flood volume of Himalayan glacial lakes
Abstract. Glacial lakes are potentially dangerous sources of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), and represent a serious natural hazard in Himalayan countries. Despite the development of various indices aimed at determining the outburst probability, an objective evaluation of the thousands of Himalayan glacial lakes has yet to be completed. In this study we propose a single index, based on the depression angle from the lakeshore, which allows the lakes to be assessed using remotely sensed digital elevation models (DEMs). We test our approach on five lakes in Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet using images taken by the declassified Hexagon KH-9 satellite before these lakes experienced an outburst flood. All five lakes had a steep lakefront area (SLA), on which a depression angle was steeper than our proposed threshold of 10° before the GLOF event, but the SLA was no longer evident after the events. We further calculated the potential flood volume (PFV); i.e., the maximum volume of floodwater that could be released if the lake surface was lowered sufficiently to eradicate the SLA. This approach guarantees repeatability to assess the possibility of GLOF hazards because it requires no particular expertise to carry out, though the PFV does not quantify the GLOF risk. We calculated PFVs for more than 2000 Himalayan glacial lakes using visible band images and DEMs of ASTER data. The PFV distribution follows a power-law function. We found that 794 lakes did not have an SLA, and consequently had a PFV of zero, while we also identified 49 lakes with PFVs of over 10 million m3, which is a comparable volume to that of recorded major GLOFs. This PFV approach allows us to preliminarily identify and prioritize those Himalayan glacial lakes that require further detailed investigation on GLOF hazards and risk.