Scientists have solved the mystery behind India’s devastating flood that killed 200 people in February

The destroyed Tapovan Vishnugad hydroelectric plant after a devastating flood on February 7, 2021. Irfan Rashid/Department of Geoinformatics, University of Kashmir

  • A large slab of ice and rock broke off a glacier in the mountains of northern India in February.

  • New analysis suggests the slab fell a mile down, ensuing in a uncommon flood that killed 200 people.

  • A warming local weather is linked to extra glacier-related landslides, so consultants count on to see extra of such floods.

  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Imagine a wall of rock and ice 1,800 ft broad falling the size of 4 Empire State Buildings stacked end-to-end.

A slab that dimension is answerable for the catastrophe in northern India that killed greater than 200 people and destroyed two energy crops 4 months in the past, based on a new study printed Thursday.

Just earlier than daybreak on February 7, an enormous chunk broke off a glacier on Ronti Peak in the Indian Himalayas. The slab dropped greater than a mile into the valley under, from its place roughly 18,000 ft above floor, at nearly 134 miles per hour.

As the chunk landed, the rock disintegrated and the ice melted, making a wall of water and particles that swiftly funneled into the river valley under. From there, the combination cascaded towards the Rishiganaga and Tapovan hydropower crops in India’s Chamoli district. After a curve in the valley slowed the sludge down, it swept into tunnels beneath the crops at speeds of as much as 56 miles per hour, trapping and killing many employees inside.

The severity of the occasion, generally known as the Chamoli catastrophe, initially stumped scientists. Typically, landslides in the area do not kickstart floods as speedy or prolonged as the one that occurred in February.

“A ‘normal’ dry rock avalanche would not have traveled as far as this one did – in other words, would not have reached either the Rishiganga or Tapovan hydroplants,” Dan Shugar, a geoscientist at the University of Calgary and co-author of the new research, instructed Insider.

Shugar’s workforce found key components that may clarify the catastrophe’s severity: The preliminary avalanche’s composition (about 20% ice and 80% rock), coupled with its mile-long fall, resulted in a hyper-mobile torrent of particles that doomed employees in the valley under.

The researchers calculated that the flood was 27 million cubic meters in quantity – sufficient to cowl more than 1,600 football fields in 10 ft of particles and nonetheless have some left over.

The flood climbed 722 ft up the valley partitions

chamoli disaster

A pc mannequin exhibits the path of the Chamoli rock and ice avalanche down Ronti Peak in February 2021. Ashim Sattar/University of Zurich

Flooding and landslides aren’t unusual in Uttarakhand, the space of northern India the place Chamoli is situated. In 2013, heavy rainfall set off devastating floods in the space than killed up to 5,700 people.

After the February catastrophe, consultants initially thought a lake close to the high of Ronti Peak had burst after the chunks of glacier holding it collectively cracked or broke off. Some glacial lakes can maintain tons of of thousands and thousands of cubic meters of water.

But satellite tv for pc imagery confirmed there have been no such lakes alongside the particles stream’s path.

By analyzing maps of the valleys’ terrain, video footage of the occasion, and earthquake knowledge in the space, Shugar’s workforce was capable of reconstruct what occurred.

The chunk of glacier that broke off Ronti Peak in the early morning was, on common, 262 ft thick. When it touched down at the mountain’s base, the slab flattened a bit of close by forest, and threw a thick mud cloud into air. The influence with the valley flooring was so violent that the rock and ice therein blended collectively to type a flood that climbed 722 ft up the valley partitions.

It was “almost the ‘optimal’ combination” for melting glacier ice, Holger Frey, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, instructed Insider. The huge flood, he added, “facilitated the large reach and destructive nature of this disastrous event.”


The broken Dhauliganga hydropower mission at Reni village in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, India after a part of a glacier broke off on February 7, 2021. Associated Press

‘It’s solely a matter of time’ till a catastrophe like this occurs once more

The flood caught employees at the hydroplants in Chamoli unexpectedly.

But based on the research, an early warning system may have given employees six to 10 minutes of discover earlier than the flood reached them. Seismic sensors – which monitor rumblings in the Earth for indicators of earthquakes or shifting rock – can detect when an avalanche occurs and let employees know if a flood is on its approach.

Even if the Chamoli catastrophe could not have been prevented, Frey stated, “a well-designed warning system should be able to warn workers at these plants and allow them to seek safe grounds.”

After all, the circumstances that led to the Chamoli catastrophe aren’t going to vanish any time quickly.


People examine a web site close to the broken Dhauliganga hydropower mission. Associated Press

Evidence from different mountainous areas, like Alaska, recommend glacier-related landslides are rising in frequency as the local weather warms, based on Shugar.

“I expect this would be similar in high mountain Asia,” he stated.

Rising air and floor temperatures are linked to extra instability in glaciers and an rising chance of landslides excessive in the mountains. The hotter the Earth turns into, the extra glaciers shrink.

“It’s only a matter of time before the next such massive event will happen somewhere in the Himalayas,” Frey stated in a press release.

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