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Evolution of debris flow and moraine failure in the Gangotri Glacier region, Garhwal Himalaya: Hydro-geomorphological aspects

Kumar, Amit, Bhambri, Rakesh, Tiwari, Sameer Kumar, Verma, Akshaya, Gupta, Anil Kumar, Kawishwar, Prashant
Geomorphology 2019 v.333 pp. 152-166
glaciation, glaciers, hydrometeorology, lakes, mass movement, rain, remote sensing, sediments, snowmelt, streams, suspended sediment, Himalayan region
A debris flow occurred in the foreland of Gangotri Glacier by its former tributary, Meru (Bamak) Glacier between 16 and 19 July 2017. We investigated the debris flow using pre- and post-event field observations; hydro-meteorological data along with remote sensing assessments to understand the mechanism and evolution of the debris flow. A large volume of sediments (−7.9 × 106 m3 ± 0.1 × 106 m3) moved from the Meru Bamak and adjoining Neela Taal (4380 m a.s.l) during the debris flow, depositing 6.5 × 106 m3 ± 0.1 × 106 m3 of sediments in the frontal region (4050 m a.s.l) of the Gangotri Glacier. This event transported sediments up to 1.5 km downstream, as a debris flow fan-type feature. During the event, ~18% of the sediments were transferred by the meltwater stream. The stream of the Meru Bamak completely dissected and exposed the ice-cored left lateral moraine of the Gangotri Glacier. This event comprehensively reworked the morainic material and entirely changed the morphology of the pro-glacial area. A small pro-glacial lake (area: 5075 m2) is also observed at the snout of Gangotri Glacier because of the blockage by morainic material and sediments. A sharp increase in the concentration of suspended sediments (SSC), reaching 11,370 and 10,605 mg/l on July 18 and 19, respectively was recorded at Bhojwasa (~3 km downstream). Multiple factors such as recession of Gangotri Glacier, degraded ice-cored moraine, loose sediments at the front of the Meru Bamak, and continuous rainfall created favourable conditions for the debris flow. Therefore, geomorphic hazards associated with glacial retreat need to be investigated intensively in the Himalaya especially, in areas where significant glacial retreat is observed, lateral moraines are exposed, and the unstable slopes are occupied by the tributary glaciers.