Learn.Bhutan.ClimateChange.01.15.13

Glacial Lakes and Global Warming in Bhutan. 

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In 2013, while leading the blue team across the incredible “Land of the Thunder Dragon,” Bhutan. The blue team consisted of a character-rich assortment of international students from THINK Global School. We were tasked with creating a sharable piece of informative and engaging piece of content regarding Cultural Preservation as one of the four pillars of Gross National Happiness.

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One evening geared toward the Environmental Sustainability pillar the teachers arranged an educational night conference with Karma Toeb, a leading glaciologist in Bhutan, to discuss the effects of climate change on the glacial lakes of Bhutan. The following morning we were shocked to discover that an amazingly rare opportunity had opened up for us. Our guides had connections to charter a private plane to fly us over the Himalayan glacial lakes so that we can experience his lecture firsthand with explanations from the cockpit.

Let’s get started, here is what I learned about Climate Change in the Glacial Lakes of Bhutan.

Regardless of political affiliation or preferred news network:

Climate Change is a real problem and is irrefutable.

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I sketched a graph that Karma shared in his presentation that shows global temperature increase over time.

Some quick notes to get you started:

  • Increasing global climate is causing glaciers to retreat 100-130 feet per year in Bhutan.
  • Glacial lakes formed from Melting Process and the Horizontal Retreat.
  • Glaciers hold 75% of fresh water on Earth.

thorthormi_glacier_2009301 Morraine barriers are formed during glacial retreat. While the glacier is moving it carries rocks, earth and debris to form morraine barriers which enclose Bhutan’s glacial lakes. While a seemingly nice natural process, the morraine barriers fail due to hydrostatic pressure. In 1994, Lugye Lake flooded and killed 21 people and destroyed villages, farms, and livestock. The Bhutanese live off of their land and disasters like this are very hard to recover from.

For more information check out:Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. (2008, April 2.) Glacial Lakes in Bhutan Himalayas.

Unfortunately the Bhutanese cannot stop it the failure of these morraine barriers, so how do they adapt?

1. Artificial lowering lake – spillway, siphoning, pumping

2. Early Warning Flood Alarm

3. Hazard Zones created people leave homes. (If family is forced to leave the government pays for land, crops, offers job, which falls under the Good Governance pillar of Gross National Happiness.)

Michot Scott, of NASA’s Earth Observatory, explains that to “reduce the likelihood of a glacial outburst flood, Bhutan has begun a project to lower the water levels of both glacial lakes. In an area where heavy equipment could tumble down the slopes, the government of Bhutan has relied on human muscle and low-tech tools to widen the outlet channels and allow the lake water to drain in a more controlled way.”

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“The Earth is what we all have in common.” – Wendell Barry
Thanks for reading.
Discussion is always welcome.
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