Natural Hazards

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 121–140 | Cite as

Geologic and hydrologic hazards in glacierized basins in North America resulting from 19th and 20th century global warming

  • Jim E. O'Connor
  • John E. Costa


Alpine glacier retreat resulting from global warming since the close of the Little Ice Age in the 19th and 20th centuries has increased the risk and incidence of some geologic and hydrologic hazards in mountainous alpine regions of North America. Abundant loose debris in recently deglaciated areas at the toe of alpine glaciers provides a ready source of sediment during rainstorms or outburst floods. This sediment can cause debris flows and sedimentation problems in downstream areas. Moraines built during the Little Ice Age can trap and store large volumes of water. These natural dams have no controlled outlets and can fail without warning. Many glacier-dammed lakes have grown in size, while ice dams have shrunk, resulting in greater risks of ice-dam failure. The retreat and thinning of glacier ice has left oversteepened, unstable valley walls and has led to increased incidence of rock and debris avalanches.

Key words

Climate change floods rockfall debris flows sedimentation glaciers North America 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Beget, J. E.: 1986, Comment on ‘Outburst floods from glacial Lake Missoula’ by G. K. C. Clarke, W. H. Mathews, and R. T. Pack,Quat. Res. 25, 136–138.Google Scholar
  2. Blown, I. G. and Church, M.: 1985, Catastrophic lake drainage within the Homathko River basin, British Columbia,Can. Geotech. J. 22, 551–563.Google Scholar
  3. Burbank, D. W.: 1982, Correlations of climate, mass balances, and glacial fluctuations at Mount Rainier, Washington, U.S.A., since 1850,Arc. Alp. Res. 14, 137–148.Google Scholar
  4. Carrara, P. E.: 1989, Late Quaternary glacial and vegetative history of the Glacier National Park region, Montana,U.S. Geol. Sur. Bull. 1902.Google Scholar
  5. Chen, J. and Ohmura, A.: 1990, Estimation of Alpine glacier water resources and their change since the 1870s, inHydrology in Mountainous Regions I. Hydrological Measurements; the Water Cycle, Int. Assoc. Hydrological Sciences Pub. No. 193, pp. 127–135.Google Scholar
  6. Church, M., Kellerhals, R., and Day, T. J.: 1989, Regional clastic sediment yield in British Columbia,Can. J. Earth Sci. 26, 31–45.Google Scholar
  7. Church, M. and Ryder, J. M.: 1972, Paraglacial sedimentation: a consideration of fluvial processes conditioned by glaciation,Geol. Soc. America Bull. 83, 3059–3072.Google Scholar
  8. Church, M. and Slaymaker, O.: 1989, Disequilibrium of Holocene sediment yield in glaciated British Columbia,Nature 337, 452–454.Google Scholar
  9. Clague, J. J. and Evans, S. G.: 1992, A self-arresting moraine dam failure, St. Elias Mountains, British Columbia,Current Research, Part A, Geol. Sur. Canada, Paper 92-1A, pp. 185–188.Google Scholar
  10. Clague, J. J., Evans, S. G., and Blown, I. G.: 1985, A debris flow triggered by the breaching of a moraine-dammed lake, Klattasine Creek, British ColumbiaCan. J. Earth Sci. 22, 1492–1502.Google Scholar
  11. Clague, J. J. and Mathews, W. H.: 1973, The magnitude of jökulhlaups,J. Glaciology 12, 501–504.Google Scholar
  12. Clague, J. J. and Mathews, W. H.: 1992, The sedimentary record and Neoglacial history of Tide Lake, northwestern British Columbia,Can. J. Earth Sci. 29, 2383–2396.Google Scholar
  13. Clarke, G. K. C.: 1982, Glacier outburst floods from ‘Hazard Lake’, Yukon Territory, and the problem of flood magnitude prediction,J. Glaciology 28, 3–21.Google Scholar
  14. Collins, D. N.: 1984, Climatic variation and runoff from Alpine glaciers,Zeit. Gletscherkunde und Glazialgeologie 24, 127–145.Google Scholar
  15. Costa, J. E.: 1988, Floods from dam failures, in V. R. Bakeret al. (eds),Flood Geomorphology, Wiley, New York, pp. 439–463.Google Scholar
  16. Crandell, D. R.: 1969, Surficial geology of Mount Rainier National Park,U.S. Geol. Sur. Bull. 1288.Google Scholar
  17. Crandell, D. R. and Fahnestock, R. K.: 1965, Rockfalls and avalanches from Little Tahoma Peak on Mount Rainier, Washington,U.S. Geol. Sur. Bull. 1221-A.Google Scholar
  18. Davis, P. T.: 1988, Holocene glacier fluctuations in the American Cordillera,Quat. Sci. Rev. 7, 129–157.Google Scholar
  19. Desloges, J. R., Jones, D. P., and Ricker, K. E.: 1989, Estimates of peak discharge from the drainage of ice-dammed Ape Lake, British Columbia, Canada,J. Glaciology 35, 349–354.Google Scholar
  20. Driedger, C. L. and Fountain, A. G.: 1989, Glacier outburst floods at Mount Rainier, Washington State, U.S.A.,Ann. Glaciology 13, 51–55.Google Scholar
  21. Driedger, C. L. and Kennard, P. M.: 1986, Ice volumes on Cascade volcanoes: Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Three Sisters, and Mount Shasta,U.S. Geol. Sur. Prof. Pap. 1365.Google Scholar
  22. Eisbacher, G. H., and Clague, J. J.: 1984, Destructive mass movements in high mountains - hazard and management, Geol. Sur. Canada Paper 84–16.Google Scholar
  23. Ellsaesser, H. W.: 1990, Atmospheric carbon dioxide and the climatic record, in J. L. Betancourt, and A. N. MacKay (eds),Proc. Sixth Annual Pacific Climate (PACLIM) Workshop, Asilomar, California, 5–8 March 1989, California Department of Water Resources, Sacramento, California, pp. 5–18.Google Scholar
  24. Ellsaesser, H. W., MacCracken, M. C., Walton, J. J., and Grotch, S. L.: 1986, Global climatic trends as revealed by the recorded data,Rev. Geophysics 24, 745–792.Google Scholar
  25. Evans, S. G., and Clague, J. J.: 1993, Glacier-related hazards and climatic change,Proc. M.I.T. Symp. The World at Risk; Natural Hazards and Climatic Change, Cambridge, Mass., 14–16 January 1992, American Institute of Physics.Google Scholar
  26. Fernández, P. C., Fornero, L., Maza, J., and Yañez, H.: 1991, Simulation of flood waves from outburst of glacier-dammed lake,J. Hydraulic Engineering 117, 43–53.Google Scholar
  27. Gleick, P. H.: 1989, Climate change, hydrology, and water resources,Rev. Geophysics 27, 329–344.Google Scholar
  28. Grove, J. M.: 1972, The incidence of landslides, avalanches, and floods in western Norway during the Little Ice Age,Arctic and Alpine Res. 4, 131–138.Google Scholar
  29. Grove, J. M.: 1987, Glacier fluctuations and hazards,Geog. J. 153, 351–369.Google Scholar
  30. Grove, J. M.: 1988,The Little Ice Age, Methuen, London (reprinted 1990, Routledge, New York).Google Scholar
  31. Haeberli, W.: 1983, Frequency and characteristics of glacier floods in the Swiss Alps,Ann. Glaciology 4, 85–90.Google Scholar
  32. Hansen, J., and Lebedeff, S.: 1988, Global surface air temperatures; update through 1987,Geophys. Res. Lett. 15, 323–326.Google Scholar
  33. Heim, A.: 1895, Die Gletscherkatastrophe an der Altels am 11 September 1895,Neujahrsblatt der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Zürich 98, 1–63.Google Scholar
  34. Hewitt, K.: 1989, Hazards to water resources development in high mountain regions: the Himalayan sources of the Indus, in Ö. Starosolszky and O. M. Melder (eds),Hydrology of Disasters (Proc. Technical Conference organized by the World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, November 1988), James and James, London, pp. 294–312.Google Scholar
  35. Hopson, R. E.: 1960, Collier Glacier - a photographic record,Mazama 17(13), 1–12.Google Scholar
  36. Houghton, J. T., Jenkins, G. J., Ephraums, J. J., (eds): 1990,Climate Change - The IPCC Scientific Assessment, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  37. Hubley, R. A.: 1956, Glaciers of the Washington Cascade and Olympic Mountains; their present activity and its relation to local climatic trends,J. Glaciology 2, 669–674.Google Scholar
  38. Hulsing, H.: 1981,The Breakout of Alaska's Lake George, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. [Available from Branch of Distribution, U.S. Geological Survey, Box 25286, Federal Center, Denver, CO, 80225.].Google Scholar
  39. Ives, J. D.: 1986, Glacial lake outburst floods and risk engineering in the Himalaya, ICIMOD Occasional Paper No. 5, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Kathmandu, Nepal.Google Scholar
  40. Jackson, L. E., Hungr, O., Gardner, J. S., Mackay, C.: 1989, Cathedral Mountain debris flows, Canada,Bull. Int. Assoc. Engineering Geology 40, 35–54.Google Scholar
  41. Jóhannesson, T., Raymond, C., and Waddington, E.: 1989, Time-scale for adjustment of glaciers to changes in mass balance,J. Glaciology 35, 355–369.Google Scholar
  42. Jones, P. D., Wigley, T. M. L., and Wright, P. B.: 1986, Global temperature variations between 1861 and 1984,Nature 322, 430–434.Google Scholar
  43. Laenen, A., Scott, K. M., Costa, J. E., and Orzol, L. L.: 1992, Modeling flood flows from a hypothetical failure of the glacial moraine impounding Carver Lake near Sisters, Oregon, U.S. Geol. Sur. Water Supply Paper 151, pp. 151–164.Google Scholar
  44. Lamb, H. H.: 1977,Climate: Present, Past and Future, Vol. 2, Climatic History and the Future,Google Scholar
  45. Lamb, H. H.: 1979, Climatic variation and changes in wind and ocean circulation: the Little Ice Age in the north Atlantic,Quat. Res. 11, 1–20.Google Scholar
  46. Liestøl, O.: 1956, Glacier dammed lakes in Norway,Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift 15, 121–149.Google Scholar
  47. Lliboutry, L.: 1971, Les catastrophes glaciaires,La Recherche 2, 417–425.Google Scholar
  48. Lliboutry, L., Arnao, B. M., Pautre, A., and Schneider, B.: 1977, Glaciological problems set by the control of dangerous lakes in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. I. Historical failures of morainic dams, their causes and prevention,J. Glaciology 18, 239–254.Google Scholar
  49. Marcus, M. G.: 1960, Periodic drainage of glacier-dammed Tulsequah Lake, British Columbia,Geog. Rev. 50, 89–106.Google Scholar
  50. Mathews, W. H.: 1965, Two self-dumping lakes in British Columbia,Geog. Rev. 55, 46–52.Google Scholar
  51. Matthes, F. E.: 1939, Report on committee on glaciers,Trans. Amer. Geophys. Union 20, 518–523.Google Scholar
  52. Meier, M. F.: 1984, Contribution of small glaciers to global sea level,Science 226, 1418–1421.Google Scholar
  53. Meier, M. F., and Post, A.: 1969, What are glacier surges?,Can. J. Earth Sci. 6, 807–817.Google Scholar
  54. Mills, H. L.: 1976, Estimated erosion rates on Mount Rainier, Washington,Geology 4, 401–406.Google Scholar
  55. Mitchell, J. F. B.: 1989, The ‘greenhouse’ effect and climate change,Rev. Geophysics 27, 115–139.Google Scholar
  56. Nolf, B.: 1966, Broken Top breaks: flood released by erosion of glacial moraine,The Ore Bin [Oregon State Department of Geology and Mineral Industries]28, 182–188.Google Scholar
  57. Peña, H., and Klohn, W.: 1989, Non-meteorological flood disasters in Chile, in Ö. Starosolszky and O. M. Melder (eds),Hydrology of Disasters (Proc. Technical Conference organized by the World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, November 1988), James and James, London, pp. 243–258.Google Scholar
  58. Plafker, G. and Erikson, G. E.: 1978, Nevados Huascarán avalanches, in B. Voight, (ed.),Rockslides and Avalanches Vol. 1, Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp. 365–392.Google Scholar
  59. Porter, S. C.: 1986, Pattern and forcing of northern hemisphere glacier variations during the last millennium,Quat. Res. 26, 27–48.Google Scholar
  60. Porter, S. C. and Denton, G. H.: 1967, Chronology of neoglaciation in the North American Cordillera,Amer. J. Sci. 267, 177–210.Google Scholar
  61. Porter, S. C. and Orombelli, G.: 1981, Alpine rockfall hazards,Amer. Scientist 69, 67–75.Google Scholar
  62. Post, A. S.: 1963, Summary of recent changes in glaciers of Mount Rainier, in M. F. Meier (ed.),The Glaciers of Mount Rainier, International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics Glacier Study Tour, 2–5 Sept. 1963, pp. 9–12.Google Scholar
  63. Post, A. and Mayo, L. R.: 1971, Glacier dammed lakes and outburst floods in Alaska,U.S. Geol. Sur. Hydrological Investigations Atlas HA-455.Google Scholar
  64. Richardson, D.: 1968, Glacier outburst floods in the Pacific Northwest, U.S. Geol. Sur. Prof. Paper 600-D, pp. 79–86.Google Scholar
  65. Schlesinger, M. E. and Mitchell, J. F. B.: 1987, Climate model simulations of the equilibrium climatic response to increased carbon dioxide,Rev. Geophysics 25, 760–798.Google Scholar
  66. Schneider, S. H.: 1989, The greenhouse effect: science and policy,Science 243, 771–780.Google Scholar
  67. Sigurdsson, O. and Williams, R. S., 1991, Rockslides on the terminus of ‘Jökulárgilsjökull’, southern Iceland,Geografiska Annaler 73A, 129–140.Google Scholar
  68. Spicer, R. C.: 1986, Glaciers in the Olympic Mountains, Washington: present distribution and recent variations, MS Thesis, University of Washington, Seattle.Google Scholar
  69. Stone, K. H.: 1963, The annual emptying of Lake George, Alaska,Arctic 16, 26–40.Google Scholar
  70. Sturm, M., Hall, D. K., Benson, C. S., and Field, W. O.: 1991, Non-climatic control of glacierterminus fluctuations in the Wrangell and Chugach Mountains, Alaska, U.S.A.,J. Glaciology 37, 348–356.Google Scholar
  71. Tangborn, W.: 1980, Two models for estimating climate-glacier relationships in the North Cascades, Washington, U.S.A.,J. Glaciology 25, 3–21.Google Scholar
  72. Tufnell, L.: 1984,Glacier Hazards, Topics in Applied Geography, Longman, New York.Google Scholar
  73. Walder, J. S. and Driedger, C. L.: in press, Rapid geomorphic change and associated hazards caused by glacial outburst floods and debris flows at Mount Rainier, Washington, U.S. Geol. Sur. Wat. Res. Inv. 93-.Google Scholar
  74. Wallén, C. C.: 1986, Impact of present century climate fluctuations in the northern hemisphere,Geografiska Annaler 68A, 245–278.Google Scholar
  75. Warren, C. R. and Glaser, N. F.: 1992, Contrasting response of South Greenland glaciers to recent climatic change,Arctic Alpine Res. 24, 124–132.Google Scholar
  76. Wigley, T. M. L. and Jones, P. D.: 1985, Influence of precipitation changes and direct CO2 effects on streamflow,Nature 314, 149–152.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jim E. O'Connor
    • 1
  • John E. Costa
    • 1
  1. 1.U.S. Geological SurveyVancouverUSA

Personalised recommendations