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Cause and Process Mechanism of Rockslide Triggered Flood Event in Rishiganga and Dhauliganga River Valleys, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India Using Satellite Remote Sensing and in situ Observations


The catchments of Rishiganga and then Dhauliganga valleys in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand were impacted by a catastrophic flood triggered due to a massive rockslide, caused by wedge failure on 7th February, 2021. It is estimated that the massive rockslide of ~ 23 million cubic meter volume containing base rock, deposited ice, and snow got detached from the northern slopes of the Trishul mountain range near Ronti Glacier and created a vertical fall of almost 1700 m before severely impacting the Ronti Gad valley located at 1.5 km downstream of Ronti Glacier snout. The huge detached mass of rock and ice (GLIMS ID: G079733E30381N) swiftly moved downstream through the glaciated valley entraining snow, debris, mud on its way, caused rapid fluidization, created massive water/slush waves, and washed away partially or completely the hydel power projects and bridges in its route. It is estimated that ~ 0.93 Peta Joules of potential energy led to the generation of a significant amount of kinetic and thermal energy, good enough to trigger above-mentioned processes. Post-event analysis of high-resolution satellite data shows flood water marks in the valley and on the rock outcrops reaching up to ~ 80–150 m height on the way to Raini Village. The mud and the slush produced through this process led to the formation of a dammed lake and temporarily blocked one of the tributaries of the Rishiganga joining from the northeast. This study provides an insight into the sequence of events as they unfolded, through multi-temporal satellite image analysis, aerial survey, seismological data in conjunction with various other geo-spatial and geo-visualization tools for unraveling the flood event that has happened on February 7, 2021. We also discuss the potential cause of rockslide and the process mechanism of this unique event, causing loss of lives and property besides widespread devastation.

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We gratefully acknowledge the support of Dr K Sivan, Chairman, ISRO, Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Agency (USDMA) and Indian Air Force, in providing necessary support for satellite data access and for aerial survey of the affected site. Authors would like to sincerely thank International Charter for Space and Major Disasters for the satellite datasets provided for the assessment of the affected area under Call-803. The satellite datasets used in the present study from Planet Scope from PLANET, Indian Remote Sensing Satellite Constellation (Resourcesat-2 and Cartosat2A) from ISRO, Sentinel-2A from ESA and Pleaides from CNES obtained through Charter are duly acknowledged. The support received from Earth Observation and Applications & Disaster Management Support Service Program Office (EDPO), ISRO Head Quarters and Dr Rajkumar, Director, NRSC, Hyderabad is also thankfully acknowledged. The support of Institute of Seismological Research (ISR), DST, Govt. of Gujarat is thankfully acknowledged. Authors are also thankful to the critical review comments provided by the two referees to substantially improve the manuscripts.

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Correspondence to Prakash Chauhan.

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Pandey, P., Chauhan, P., Bhatt, C.M. et al. Cause and Process Mechanism of Rockslide Triggered Flood Event in Rishiganga and Dhauliganga River Valleys, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India Using Satellite Remote Sensing and in situ Observations. J Indian Soc Remote Sens 49, 1011–1024 (2021).

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  • Rockslide
  • Flood
  • Himalaya
  • Remote sensing
  • Chamoli Uttarakhand