12 Jan 2023
12 Jan 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal NHESS.

Review article: Snow and ice avalanches in high mountain Asia – scientific, local and indigenous knowledge

Anushilan Acharya1, Jakob Friedrich Steiner2,3, Khwaja Momin Walizada4, Zakir Hussain Zakir5, Salar Ali5, Arnaud Caiserman6, and Teiji Watanabe7 Anushilan Acharya et al.
  • 1Graduate School of Environmental Science, Hokkaido University, Sapporo 060-0810, Japan
  • 2International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Lalitpur, Nepal
  • 3University of Graz, Department of Geography and Regional Science, Heinrichstrasse 36, 8010 Graz, Austria
  • 4Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, Kabul, Afghanistan
  • 5Department of Environmental Science, University of Baltistan 16100, Skardu, Pakistan
  • 6Mountain Societies Research Institute, University of Central Asia, Khorog, 736000, Tajikistan
  • 7Faculty of Environmental Earth Science and Graduate School of Environmental Science, Hokkaido University, Japan

Abstract. The cryosphere in high mountain Asia (HMA) not only sustains livelihoods of people residing downstream through its capacity to store water but also holds potential for hazards. One of these hazards, avalanches, so far remains poorly studied as the complex relationship between climate and potential triggers is poorly understood due to lack of long-term observations, inaccessibility, severe weather conditions, and financial and logistic constraints. In this study, available literature was reviewed covering the period from the late 20th century to June 2022 to identify research and societal gaps and propose future directions of research and mitigation strategies. Beyond scientific literature, technical reports, newspapers, social media and other local sources were consulted to compile a comprehensive, open access and version controlled database of avalanche events and their associated impacts. Over 681 avalanches with more than 3131 human fatalities were identified in eight countries of the region. Afghanistan has the highest recorded avalanche fatalities (1057) followed by India (952) and Nepal (508). Additionally, 564 people lost their lives while climbing peaks above 4500 m a.s.l., one third of which were staff employed as guides or porters. This makes it a less deadly hazard than in the less populated European Alps for example, but with a considerably larger number of people affected who did not voluntarily expose themselves to avalanche risk. Although fatalities are significant, and local long-term impacts of avalanches may be considerable, so far, limited holistic adaptation or mitigation measures exist in the region. These measures generally rely on local and indigenous knowledge adapted with modern technologies. Considering the high impact avalanches have in the region we suggest to further develop adaptation measures including hazard zonation maps based on datasets of historic events and modelling efforts. This should however happen acknowledging the already existing knowledge in the region and in close coordination with communities and local government and civil society stakeholders. More research studies should also be attempted to understand trends and drivers of avalanches in the region.

Anushilan Acharya et al.

Status: open (until 24 Feb 2023)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse

Anushilan Acharya et al.

Data sets

HiAVAL Acharya and Steiner

Anushilan Acharya et al.


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Short summary
All accessible snow and ice avalanches together with previous scientific research, local knowledge, and existing or previously active adaptation and mitigation solutions were investigated in the High Mountain Asia region to have a detailed overview of the state of knowledge and identify gaps. A comprehensive avalanche database from 1972–2022 is generated including 681 individual events. The database provides a basis for forecasting of avalanche hazards in different parts of HMA.