, Volume 59, Issue 3, pp 1691-1714
Date: 22 Jun 2011

Identification of potentially dangerous glacial lakes in the northern Tien Shan

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Abstract

Like in many other parts of the world, the glaciers in northern Tien Shan are receding, and the permafrost is thawing. Concomitantly, glacial lakes are developing. Historically, outbursts of these glacial lakes have resulted in severe hazards for infrastructures and livelihood. Multi-temporal space imageries are an ideal means to study and monitor glaciers and glacial lakes over large areas. Geomorphometric analysis and modelling allows to estimate the potential danger for glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). This paper presents a comprehensive approach by coupling of remote sensing, geomorphometric analyses aided with GIS modelling for the identification of potentially dangerous glacial lakes. We suggest a classification scheme based on an additive ratio scale in order to prioritise sites for detailed investigations. The identification and monitoring of glacial lakes was carried out semi-automatically using band ratioing and the normalised difference water index (NDWI) based on multi-temporal space imagery from the years 1971 to 2008 using Corona, ASTER and Landsat data. The results were manually edited when required. The probability of the growth of a glacial lake was estimated by analysing glacier changes, glacier motion and slope analysis. A permafrost model was developed based on geomorphometric parameters, solar radiation and regionalised temperature conditions which permitted to assess the influence of potential permafrost thawing. Finally, a GIS-based model was applied to simulate the possibly affected area of lake outbursts. The findings of this study indicate an increasing number and area of glacial lakes in the northern Tien Shan region. We identified several lakes with a medium to high potential for an outburst after a classification according to their outburst probability and their downstream impact. These lakes should be investigated more in detail.