Study: 15M People Threatened Globally by Glacial Flooding

Study: 15M People Threatened Globally by Glacial Flooding
Last updated Feb 08, 2023
Image credit: Inverse


  • In a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, researchers found that 15M people across the globe are at risk of a phenomenon known as "Glacial Lake Outburst Floods." Most of the vulnerable populations reside in Peru, India, Pakistan, and China.[1]
  • A second study awaiting publication identifies examples of these events that have occurred throughout history and more recent times. One notable flood killed between 1.8K and 6K people in Peru in 1941. In a more recent event, a 300-foot (100-meter) tsunami resulted from this phenomenon in British Columbia in 2020.[2]
  • While "Glacial Lake Outburst Floods" have been a threat throughout history, climate change is believed to have increased the danger. Tom Robinson, a risk researcher at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and a co-author of the study said, "It sounds quite dire, but it doesn't need to be...With thoughtful investment and careful planning, we can avoid these."[3]
  • Since 1990, the glacial ice melt has increased the number and volume of glacial lakes by 50%. The presence of people in high-risk zones is an exacerbating factor.[4]
  • The study's authors identified a lack of data on the populations that are most vulnerable to these events. Their next step includes rapidly gathering additional data, especially in the Andes region.[5]
  • In the study, researchers noted that, unlike most disasters, areas at risk can be identified and mitigation measures can be taken, such as early warning systems and reducing glacial lake levels.[3]


Narrative A

The task of slowing or stopping global warming is daunting but it's still within reach. At a high level, the world can collectively fight this battle and win by reducing emissions and switching to renewables. The cost of these changes is exorbitant but the benefit of these sacrifices is on the horizon. That will make events like "Glacial Lake Outburst Floods" less dangerous.

Narrative B

If we can take one lesson learned from the COVID pandemic it's that building resilience in vulnerable communities must become a priority. Nearly 200 United Nations member nations have pledged to "leave no one behind" but have they been successful? The focus on these complex issues should be on projects that have grassroots support from those most vulnerable and not just those projects supported by influencers of public policy working on "big picture issues."

Nerd narrative

There's a 41% chance that large-scale solar radiation management will be used to mitigate the effects of climate change in the 21st century, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

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