Are GLOFs and Climate Change, next big thing after Covid-19 for Sikkim?

As it is a well-known fact that Covid-19 is a pandemic that has caused millions of casualties in the world. There are dangerous variants like Omicron still active across many places. However, Sikkim being a small state has been tackling the pandemic well through Covid appropriate behavior across the places. Though, it needs to be followed till the pandemic ends or turns into an epidemic. But do you know that there is something called as GLOFs which could be the next big thing in Sikkim? Glacial Lake Outburst Flood commonly known as GLOFs is real horror for the people living in the hilly areas. For example, the 2013 Kedarnath flooding was also based on GLOFs along with cloud bursts. A lake named Chorabari broke out due to its weak boundary which we call “Morraine Dam”. This event took the lives of around 5,700 people in a short period.

The Sikkim state also has many glacial lakes with weak boundary which are dangerous if broken. One of the common examples is South Lhonak lake at the tip of South Lhonak Glacier in the Northern part of Sikkim. In 2019, research was published in one of the high impact factor scientific journals namely “Science of The Total Environment” by Glacier Scientists. It did estimate in case of the boundary breach at how much time would it reach different parts of Sikkim. The flood wave reaches the nearest town Lachen, located at a distance of 46 km downstream from the lake, after 3 hours 38 minutes, and at At Chungthang town, located at a distance of 62.35 km from South Lhonak lake, the flood wave potentially inundates settlements along the bank of the flow channel and is reached after 4 hours. The peak flood would be dangerous as it could damage settlements nearby the Teesta river. For adaptation measures, the concerned departments of the state government must be well prepared.

Many people are not aware of how big the lake is and what is causing the lake to increase its size. However, it is important to understand the real danger and the reason behind this. The south Lhonak lake was 0.24 square km in 1965, which is the present size of Changu lake, and in 2021 it is around 1.42 sq. Km which is almost 6 times larger than Changu Lake as of now. The reason for a rapid increase in the lake area is an increase in the global temperature which we call Global Warming or more commonly Climate Change. It is the biggest danger faced by the earth during its existence for the last 4.5 billion years.

Let’s understand a bit about Climate Change. There are some important gases like Carbon that keep the earth warm, they act like a perfect blanket that keeps us warm during the night. These are Greenhouse gases. Imagine, you are sleeping peacefully. What happens when someone puts up one more blanket above it, maybe the warmness increases, what about two? Maybe you feel uneasy and what if someone keeps on adding blankets above it? We will be suffocated. A similar thing is happing, due to adding extra carbon and other greenhouse gases through the smokes coming out of factories, vehicles, airplanes, we are adding more layers of blanket which makes the earth raise its temperature.

A one degree Celcius rise from the zero degrees Celcius itself is enough to melt the ice, then think what could happen when it rises more. As per International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Since 1970 the global average temperature has been rising at a rate of 1.7°C per century. This is what the “Paris Agreement” is all about; world leaders have signed an agreement to keep a limit on the rise of the Earth’s global temperature below 2 degrees Celcius. There is melting of already imposed ice in the glacier causing the formation of glacial lakes in the case of South Lhonak Glacier. It’s high time to act by making people aware of things regionally as well as globally. The use of taxis over personal cars followed by switching to electric cars followed by using non-fossil fuel-based machines and the plantation to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere are good things to start on with.