Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

NASA Satellite Images Show Massive Ice Avalanche in Tibet

Climate

On July 17, 130 million cubic yards of ice and rock suddenly let go from a glacier in Tibet, hurtling down six-tenths of a mile and killing nine herders along with 350 sheep and 110 yaks. Scientists were baffled. Now, by examining satellite images before and after the event, they think it is an example of a rare glacial surge, when a glacier moves at 10 to 100 times its normal speed. Some researchers believe that climate change at high elevations can trigger such surges.

NASA

"It doesn't make sense," said Tian Lide, a glaciologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research (ITPR) in Beijing, who runs a research station in Rutog. Most avalanches occur on slopes of 25 to 45 degrees, but the Rutog avalanche, as this event is known, started from a flat area some 17,000 to 20,000 feet above sea level. When it came to rest, it covered an area of nearly 3.8 square miles to a depth of almost 100 feet. The only other event of comparable size was the 2002 collapse of the Kolka Glacier in the Caucasus. That avalanche killed 140 people.

An entire tongue of the Rutog glacier in Northwest Tibet collapsed at once. Lide noted that the glacier came down with such force that it widened the gully it came to rest in. Two different satellites captured before-and-after pictures of the area. NASA's Operational Land Imager acquired an image on June 24, just about a month before the avalanche. The European Space Agency's Sentinel-2 satellite captured an image of the debris field on July 21, days after. The pre-collapse imagery revealed that the glacier was already showing signs of change.

Glacial surges can be caused by meltwater at the base of the glacier, which essentially lubricates the surface it flows over. These types of surges can have a sudden onset and a very high flow rate. Many surge-type glaciers are found in Western Tibet.

Researchers from Moscow State University and the University Center for Engineering Geodynamics and Monitoring in Moscow have investigated the Kolka avalanche on the ground. Glacial surges are not new there; events dating back to at least 1902 are known. They found striations in the moraine rocks, which they'd never seen before.

"Moraine rocks are not scraped by the glacier because they move with it," Dmitry Petrakov, a geologist at Moscow State University, said. "But at Kolka, the collapse happened so fast that the ice mass must have simply flown over the moraine, producing striations several millimeters deep in minutes."

They found that the avalanche moved with tremendous speed, perhaps up to 112 miles per hour. They concluded that it was a surge event.

A year after the Kolka collapse, the researchers still found the area unstable. In the days following the Rutog avalanche, cracks occurred in nearby glaciers. Temperatures in the Tibetan plateau have risen 0.4 degrees Celsius per decade, twice the global average. One-tenth of the permafrost has melted in just the past decade. Rapidly melting glaciers have added to the number of lakes by 14 percent since 1970 and 80 percent of existing lakes have grown, flooding towns and pastures. In addition, precipitation in the area has increased 12 percent since 1960.

EcoWatch reported Aug. 26 on the issues facing this area, known as the "Third Pole." The Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau hold the largest mass of ice on Earth after the polar regions. The loss of these glaciers threatens the water supply for 1 billion people in China, India and Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Southeast Asia.

In response to the Rutog avalanche, China Radio International reported, "Experts believed that the icefall is a result of global warming, which has caused melting and cracking of the glaciers."

Those killed in the Rutog avalanche were residents of Dungru village in Rutog county in Southwest China's Tibet autonomous region.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Charli Shield

At unsettling times like the coronavirus outbreak, it might feel like things are very much out of your control. Most routines have been thrown into disarray and the future, as far as the experts tell us, is far from certain.

Read More Show Less
Pie Ranch in San Mateo, California, is a highly diverse farm that has both organic and food justice certification. Katie Greaney

By Elizabeth Henderson

Farmworkers, farmers and their organizations around the country have been singing the same tune for years on the urgent need for immigration reform. That harmony turns to discord as soon as you get down to details on how to get it done, what to include and what compromises you are willing to make. Case in point: the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038), which passed in the House of Representatives on Dec. 11, 2019, by a vote of 260-165. The Senate received the bill the next day and referred it to the Committee on the Judiciary, where it remains. Two hundred and fifty agriculture and labor groups signed on to the United Farm Workers' (UFW) call for support for H.R. 5038. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez rejoiced:

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A woman walks to her train in Grand Central Terminal as New York City attempts to slow down the spread of coronavirus through social distancing on March 27. John Lamparski / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

A council representing more than 800,000 doctors across the U.S. signed a letter Friday imploring President Donald Trump to reverse his call for businesses to reopen by April 12, warning that the president's flouting of the guidance of public health experts could jeopardize the health of millions of Americans and throw hospitals into even more chaos as they fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less
polaristest / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner

Over six gallons of water are required to produce one gallon of wine. "Irrigation, sprays, and frost protection all [used in winemaking] require a lot of water," explained winemaker and sommelier Keith Wallace, who's also a professor and the founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia, the largest independent wine school in the U.S. And water waste is just the start of the climate-ruining inefficiencies commonplace in the wine industry. Sustainably speaking, climate change could be problematic for your favorite glass of wine.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Spinach is a true nutritional powerhouse, as it's rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Read More Show Less