Moraine dam breach and glacial lake outburst flood generation by physical and numerical models

Article Type

Research Article

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Journal of Hydrology


The areas of glacial lakes in the Himalayas continue to increase alarmingly due to global warming with consequent risk of glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF). The outburst is most common for moraine-dammed lakes as a result of a failure of the dam by overtopping and erosion or piping due to seepage. In the present context, GLOF events, especially for the moraine dam failure process needs to be predicted to assess the drastic and detrimental impacts on the downstream river valley. This study focuses on validating an integrated model for simulating the failure of moraine dam by overtopping and erosion using a coupled numerical simulation model. The proposed numerical methodology is validated with the data from experiments in laboratory scale physical models. The results of the model are compared for both the erosional profiles during collapse of the dam and the resulting outflowing flood hydrograph. The primary finding is that the moraine dam height and the volume of the lake upstream of the dam are the most sensitive parameters influencing the GLOF peak. The model is also applied to the field problem of the Tangjiashan lake outburst and dam failure and shows reasonably good agreement with observations. The validated model is also run for the South Lhonak glacial lake in the Sikkim Himalayas, India to obtain the probable flood hydrograph in case of failure of the moraine dam.

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