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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Tibetan Avalanche from Space

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Wednesday, September 7, 2016/Categories: natural history, space science, environment, adventure

          Satellite Images of Rotug Glacier, Tibet before (6-24-16, ESA Sentinel) & after (7-21-16, NASA Landsat)

A massive avalanche that could have been the result of climate change happened on the Tibetan Plateau in late July. In a report in Nature, field investigators confirmed that:

"about 100,000,000 cubic meters of ice and rocks (264,000,000 million gallons) gushed down a narrow valley in Tibet's Rutog county, killing herders as well as sheep and yaks. The debris covered nearly 4 square miles at a thickness up to 98 feet."

From early analysis, the avalanche was unusual because it started from a flat location at 17,000-20,000 feet above sea level rather than on steep terrain. The ice crashed into a lake, 4 miles away.

One field glaciologist said:

"The force of the avalanche was likely caused by lubrication of the ice from rain or glacial melt and that increasing precipitation in recent years may be partly to blame."

Decline of Tibetan glaciers has been an ongoing concern but exact field data has been difficult to obtain considering the size and remoteness of the vast plateau. Often referred to as the Third Pole, mountain snow and glaciers in the plateau's mountains are watershed sources for 10 major rivers providing drinking water, power, and irrigation to over 1.3 billion people in Asia.

The impact of climate change on mountain glaciers was a topic at the interational meetings last year in Paris. The Rutog avalanche is one more large-scale reminder of this ongoing climate challenge for Tibet and elsewhere.



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