Glaciers are not only melting, but also crumbling around the Third Pole. In 2016, two glaciers collapsed one after the other in the Aru Mountains in the west of the Third Pole. The first collapse resulted in nine human casualties and the death of hundreds of livestock. However, the disaster may not end there.
According to a study recently published in The Cryosphere, melt water from ice avalanches is filling lakes downstream, which could cause previously separated lakes to merge over the next decade, disrupting ecosystems in the region.
“The collapse of the Aru Glaciers has both short and long term impacts on downstream lakes,” said Dr. Lei Yanbin, lead author of the study and researcher at the Institute for Tibetan Plateau Research (ITP) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
According to LeI and his team, the collapse of the first glacier into the downstream Lake Aru Ko left at least 7.1 million cubic meters of ice in the lower reaches of Lake Aru Ko, which is about 2,840 Olympic-size pools.
The ice avalanche lowered the lake’s surface temperature by 2-4 degrees Celsius over two weeks and reshaped the coastal bottom. When the avalanche ice began to melt, it increased the volume of Lake Memar-Ko, a neighboring lake, by 23%, which rose three meters from 2016 to 2019 – 30% faster than from 2003 to 2014. …
Lei Yangbin and his team were the first scientists to arrive on the scene after the glacier collapsed, and have since worked to figure out why and how glaciers collapsed, and have also tried to understand the impact of the collapse on the lakes downstream.
Their study showed that the debris of the ice avalanche from the collapse of the first glacier had almost melted by the summer of 2017, but 30% of the ice from the collapse of the second glacier was still at the end of 2019.
“If Lake Memar continues to expand at this rate, in 7-11 years it will merge with Lake Aru Ko,” Lei Yanbin said.
“Such a scenario could significantly alter the regional landscape and disrupt local ecosystems. That is why we need to keep a closer eye on the two lakes in case of such changes.”
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