An assessment of conditions before and after the 1998 Tam Pokhari outburst in the Nepal Himalaya and an evaluation of the future outburst hazard

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Abstract

On 3 September 1998, a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) that originated from Tam Pokhari occurred in the Hinku valley of the eastern Nepal Himalaya. This study analyses the lake's geomorphic and hydrologic conditions prior to the outburst, and evaluates the conditions that could contribute to a future flood through photogrammetric techniques. We processed high-resolution Corona KH-4A (2.7 m) and ALOS PRISM (2.5 m) stereo-images taken before and after the GLOF event, and produced detailed topographic maps (2-m contour interval) and DEMs (5 m × 5 m). We (re-) constructed lake water surfaces before (4410 ± 5 m) and after (4356 ± 5 m) the outburst, and reliably estimated the lake water surface lowering (54 ± 5 m) and the water volume released (19.5 ± 2.2 × 106 m3) from the lake, showing good agreement with the results obtained from ground-based measurements. The most relevant conditions that may have influenced the catastrophic drainage of Tam Pokhari in 1998 include the presence of: (i) a narrow (75 ± 6 m), steep (up to 50°) and high (120 ± 5 m) moraine dam; (ii) high lake level (8 ± 5 m of freeboard) and (iii) a steep overhanging glacier (>40°). The lake outburst substantially altered the immediate area, creating a low and wide (>500 m) outwash plain below the lake, a wide lake outlet channel (˜50 m) and a gentle channel slope (˜3–5°). Our new data suggest that the likelihood of a future lake outburst is low. Our results demonstrate that the datasets produced by photogrammetric techniques provide an excellent representation of micro-landform features on moraine dams, lake water surfaces and the changes in both over time, thereby allowing highly accurate pre- and post-GLOF (volumetric) change analysis of glacial lakes. Furthermore, it enables precise measurement of several predictive variables of GLOFs that can be useful for identifying potentially dangerous glacial lakes or prioritizing them for detailed field investigations. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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