Climate change and the global pattern of moraine-dammed glacial lake outburst floods
European Geosciences Union (EGU) / Copernicus Publications
© Author(s) 2017. Open access. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Despite recent research identifying a clear anthropogenic impact on glacier recession, the effect of recent climate change on glacier-related hazards is at present unclear. Here we present the first global spatio-temporal assessment of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) focusing explicitly on lake drainage following moraine dam failure. These floods occur as mountain glaciers recede and downwaste and many have an enormous impact on downstream communities and infrastructure. Our assessment of GLOFs associated with the collapse of moraine-dammed lakes provides insights into the historical trends of GLOFs and their distributions under current and future global climate change. We observe a clear global increase in GLOF frequency and their regularity around 1930, which likely represents a lagged response to post-Little Ice Age warming. Notably, we also show that GLOF frequency and their regularity – rather unexpectedly – has declined in recent decades even during a time of rapid glacier recession. Although previous studies have suggested that GLOFs will increase in response to climate warming and glacier recession, our global results demonstrate that this has not yet clearly happened. From assessment of the timing of climate forcing, lag times in glacier recession, lake formation and moraine dam failure, we predict increased GLOF frequencies during the next decades and into the 22nd century.
SH was funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship. SH, RAB and AW acknowledge funding under the HELIX (European Union Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013 under grant agreement n° 603864). AW and RAB acknowledge funding from the Joint UK DECC/Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101).
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from EGU via the DOI in this record
Published online 24 October 2017