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Glacial lake outburst floods in the Karakoram mountains, P.R. China, early warning and climate change


12th Congress INTERPRAEVENT 2012, Grenoble / France

In the last decade, 5 glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) damaged infrastructure and claimed humanlives along Yarkant River, Xinjiang, P.R. China. The spontaneous floods are a threat for over 1 Mioinhabitants in the floodplains of Yarkant River and are causing an annual monetary loss of approx.10 Mio Euro.

Yarkant River drains the Karakoram Mountains with a catchment area of approx. 53’000 km2 andranks as number one in terms of flood frequency and damages in Xinjiang. The glacial outburst floodswith peak discharges of up to 6’000 m3/s originate from a remote ice-dammed glacier lake at4’750 m a.s.l. in the Shaksgam Valley, approx. 560 km upstream of the floodplains (Fig. 1). There, theKyagar Glacier snout blocks the riverbed. Hence, a lake with a volume over 200 Mio m3 has built-upin the past.

Based on a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Water Resources ofP.R. China (MWRC) and the Swiss Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy andCommunications (DETEC), it was decided to initiate a Sino-Swiss project to improve risk assessmentand mitigation with respect to climate change, combining various technologies and know-how.

The project is supported by a cooperation between the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation(SDC) and the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN).