International effort to drain dangerous Bhutan lake underlines costs and risks of climate change

Thorthormi Tsho is a glacial lake perched precariously at 4428 metres above sea level in the remote Lunana area of northern Bhutan Rated as one of Bhutan’s likeliest future catastrophes, a breach and outburst flood through Thorthormi Tsho’s unstable moraine walls would most likely spill into the also vulnerable Raphsthreng Tsho 80 metres below, with the combined flood suddenly releasing up to 53 million cubic metres of water and debris into the upper catchment of the Po Chu river.

The first phase of an international project to reduce the risk to a Bhutan valley from the threatening bursting of a growing and increasingly unstable glacial lake is emphasising the huge costs of climate change adaptation in the Himalayas.

In a valley still bearing the scars of a just one third as large 1994 Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) which took more than 20 lives and devastated villages and wrecked transport and power facilities, the prospect is frightening.

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