Proglacial Lakes in High Mountain Environments

  • Jan-Christoph OttoEmail author
Part of the Geography of the Physical Environment book series (GEOPHY)


Lakes are a characteristic feature of glacial landscapes. They are found in the vicinity of current or past glaciers and ice sheets, in high alpine cirques, inner-alpine valleys as well as lowlands. In recent years, new lakes have emerged in glacier forefields and surface areas and volumes of many proglacial lakes are reported to be growing in many mountain areas due to climate-induced glacier melt. Some proglacial lakes have attracted public and scientific attention due to disastrous events such as lake outburst floods or increasing hazard potential and risk downstream. Proglacial lake formation is the result of glacier retreat exposing a topographic bedrock depression or space behind a sediment dam that inhibits runoff and provokes storage of water and sediment. Proglacial lakes thus are first-order sediment sinks and interrupt the sediment cascade and sediment transfer dynamics from uplands to lowlands. They often are of societal relevance in mountain areas ranging from water supply to energy production, hazard and risk, as well as tourism issues. This review summarises the role of proglacial lakes for geomorphic systems in high mountain environments. We start with a look at the basic terminology and formation principles, followed by an overview of global lake distribution patterns. The geomorphologic significance of proglacial lakes is discussed with respect to the current state of knowledge. Recent developments that allow a modelling of potential future lakes in mountain areas, once the glacier melt, are presented and discussed in the light of natural hazards and risks, as well as socio-economic dimensions of proglacial lake formation.


Proglacial lakes distribution Overdeepening Lake sedimentation Sedimentary archive Outburst flood 


  1. Allen SK, Schneider D, Owens IF (2009) First approaches towards modelling glacial hazards in the Mount Cook region of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 9(2):481–499. Scholar
  2. Allen SK, Linsbauer A, Randhawa SS, Huggel C, Rana P, Kumari A (2016) Glacial lake outburst flood risk in Himachal Pradesh, India: an integrative and anticipatory approach considering current and future threats. Nat Hazards, 1–23. Scholar
  3. Arnaud F, Poulenard J, Giguet-Covex C, Wilhelm B, Révillon S, Jenny JP, Revel M, Enters D, Bajard M, Fouinat L, Doyen E, Simonneau A, Pignol C, Chapron E, Vannière B, Sabatier P (2016) Erosion under climate and human pressures: an alpine lake sediment perspective. Quatern Sci Rev 152:1–18. Scholar
  4. Ashley GM (2002) Glaciolacustrine environments. In: Menzies J (ed) Modern and past glacial environments. Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford, pp 335–359CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ballantyne CK (2002) A general model of paraglacial landscape response. Holocene 12(3):371–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beaud F, Flowers G, Venditti J (2015) Efficacy of bedrock erosion by subglacial water flow. Earth Surf Dyn Discuss, 125–145. Scholar
  7. Benn DI, Evans DJA (2010) Glaciers and glaciation. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. Bennet M, Glaser N (2009) Glacial geology—ice sheets and landforms. Wiley, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  9. Binder D, Brückl E, Roch KH, Behm M, Schöner W, Hynek B (2009) Determination of total ice volume and ice-thickness distribution of two glaciers in the Hohe Tauern region, Eastern Alps, from GPR data. Ann Glaciol 50(51):71–79. Scholar
  10. Blass A, Bigler C, Grosjean M, Sturm M (2007) Decadal-scale autumn temperature reconstruction back to AD 1580 inferred from the varved sediments of Lake Silvaplana (southeastern Swiss Alps). Quatern Res 68:184–195. Scholar
  11. Bogen J, Xu M, Kennie P (2015) The impact of pro-glacial lakes on downstream sediment delivery in Norway. Earth Surf Proc Land 40:942–952. Scholar
  12. Bolch T, Kulkarni A, Kääb A, Huggel C, Paul F, Cogley JG, Frey H, Kargel JS, Fujita K, Scheel M, Bajracharya S, Stoffel M (2012) The state and fate of Himalayan Glaciers. Science 336(6079):310–314. Scholar
  13. Brierley G, Fryirs K, Jain V (2006) Landscape connectivity: the geographic basis of geomorphic applications. Area 38(2):165–174. Scholar
  14. Buckel J, Otto JC, Prasicek G, Keuschnig M (2018) Glacial lakes in Austria - distribution and formation since the little ice age. Glob Planet Change 164:39–51. Scholar
  15. Carey M (2005) Living and dying with glaciers: people’s historical vulnerability to avalanches and outburst floods in Peru. Glob Planet Change 47(2–4):122–134. Scholar
  16. Carey M, Huggel C, Bury J, Portocarrero C, Haeberli W (2012) An integrated socio-environmental framework for glacier hazard management and climate change adaptation: lessons from Lake 513, Cordillera Blanca. Peru. Climatic Change 112(3–4):733–767CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Carrivick JL, Quincey DJ (2014) Progressive increase in number and volume of ice-marginal lakes on the western margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Glob Planet Change 116:156–163. Scholar
  18. Carrivick JL, Tweed FS (2013) Proglacial lakes: character, behaviour and geological importance. Quatern Sci Rev 78:34–52. Scholar
  19. Carrivick JL, Tweed FS (2016) A global assessment of the societal impacts of glacier outburst floods. Glob Planet Change 144:1–16. Scholar
  20. Cenderelli DA, Wohl EE (2003) Flow hydraulics and geomorphic effects of glacial-lake outburst floods in the Mount Everest region, Nepal. Earth Surf Process Land 28(4):385–407. Scholar
  21. Church M, Ryder JM (1972) Paraglacial sedimentation: a consideration of fluvial processes conditioned by glaciation. Geol Soc Am Bull 83:3059–3071CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Clague JJ, Evans SG (2000) A review of catastrophic drainage of moraine-dammed lakes in British Columbia. Quatern Sci Rev 19(17–18):1763–1783. Scholar
  23. Clague JJ, O’Connor JE (2015) Chapter 14—Glacier-related outburst floods A2 - Shroder, John F. In: Haeberli W, Whiteman C (eds) Snow and ice-related hazards, risks and disasters. Academic Press, Boston, pp 487–519. Scholar
  24. Clarke GKC, Berthier E, Schoof CG, Jarosch AH (2009) Neural networks applied to estimating subglacial topography and glacier volume. J Clim 22(8):2146–2160. Scholar
  25. Cook SJ, Swift DA (2012) Subglacial basins: their origin and importance in glacial systems and landscapes. Earth Sci Rev 115(4):332–372. Scholar
  26. Cook SJ, Kougkoulos I, Edwards LA, Dortch J, Hoffmann D (2016) Glacier change and glacial lake outburst flood risk in the Bolivian Andes. Cryosphere 10(5):2399–2413. Scholar
  27. Creyts TT, Clarke GKC (2010) Hydraulics of subglacial supercooling: theory and simulations for clear water flows. J Geophys Res Earth Surf 115:1–21. Scholar
  28. Deline P, Gruber S, Delaloye R, Fischer L, Geertsema M, Giardino M, Hasler A, Kirkbride M, Krautblatter M, Magnin F, McColl S, Ravanel L, Schoeneich P (2015) Chapter 15—Ice loss and slope stability in high-mountain regions A2—Shroder, John F. In: Haeberli W, Whiteman C (eds) Snow and ice-related hazards, risks and disasters. Academic Press, Boston, pp 521–561.
  29. Desloges JR, Gilbert R (1994) Sediment source and hydroclimatic inferences from glacial lake sediments: the postglacial sedimentary record of Lillooet Lake, British Columbia. J Hydrol 159(1):375–393. Scholar
  30. Diolaiuti G, Citterio M, Carnielli T, D’Agata C, Kirkbride M, Smiraglia C (2006) Rates, processes and morphology of freshwater calving at Miage Glacier (Italian Alps). Hydrol Process 20(10):2233–2244. Scholar
  31. Emmer A, Klimeš J, Mergili M, Vilímek V, Cochachin A (2016) 882 lakes of the Cordillera Blanca: an inventory, classification, evolution and assessment of susceptibility to outburst floods. Catena 147:269–279. Scholar
  32. Emmer A, Vilímek V (2014) New method for assessing the susceptibility of glacial lakes to outburst floods in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 18(9):3461–3479. Scholar
  33. Farinotti D, Huss M, Bauder A, Funk M, Truffer M (2008) A method to estimate ice volume and ice thickness distribution of alpine glaciers. 00:1-17. Scholar
  34. Farinotti D, Pistocchi A, Huss M (2016a) From dwindling ice to headwater lakes: could dams replace glaciers in the European Alps? Environ Res Lett 11(5):054022CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Farinotti D, Brinkerhoff D, Clarke GKC, Fürst JJ, Frey H, Gantayat P, Gillet-Chaulet F, Girard C, Huss M, Leclercq PW, Linsbauer A, Machguth H, Martin C, Maussion F, Morlighem M, Mosbeux C, Pandit A, Portmann A, Rabatel A, Ramsankaran R, Reerink TJ, Sanchez O, Stentoft PA, Singh Kumari S, van Pelt WJJ, Anderson B, Benham T, Binder D, Dowdeswell JA, Fischer A, Helfricht K, Kutuzov S, Lavrentiev I, McNabb R, Gudmundsson GH, Li H, Andreassen LM (2016b) How accurate are estimates of glacier ice thickness? Results from ITMIX, the ice thickness models intercomparison experiment. Cryosphere Discuss 2016:1–34. Scholar
  36. Fischer A, Seiser B, Stocker-Waldhuber M, Mitterer C, Abermann J (2015) The Austrian Glacier inventories GI 1 (1969), GI 2 (1998), GI 3 (2006), and GI LIA in ArcGIS (shapefile) format.
  37. Fleisher PJ, Bailey PK, Cadwell DH (2003) A decade of sedimentation in ice-contact, proglacial lakes, Bering Glacier, AK. Sediment Geol 160(4):309–324. Scholar
  38. Frey H, Haeberli W, Linsbauer A, Huggel C, Paul F (2010) A multi-level strategy for anticipating future glacier lake formation and associated hazard potentials. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 10:339–352. Scholar
  39. Frey H, Machguth H, Huss M, Huggel C, Bajracharya S, Bolch T, Kulkarni A, Linsbauer A, Salzmann N, Stoffel M (2014) Estimating the volume of glaciers in the Himalayan–Karakoram region using different methods. Cryosphere 8(6):2313–2333. Scholar
  40. Gardelle J, Arnaud Y, Berthier E (2011) Contrasted evolution of glacial lakes along the Hindu Kush Himalaya mountain range between 1990 and 2009. Global Planet Change 75(1–2):47–55. Scholar
  41. Haeberli W, Buetler M, Huggel C, Friedli TL, Schaub Y, Schleiss AJ (2016a) New lakes in deglaciating high-mountain regions—opportunities and risks. Climatic Change, 1–14. Scholar
  42. Haeberli W, Linsbauer A, Cochachin A, Salazar C, Fischer UH (2016b) On the morphological characteristics of overdeepenings in high-mountain glacier beds. Earth Surf Process Land, n/a–n/a. Scholar
  43. Haeberli W, Schaub Y, Huggel C (2017) Increasing risks related to landslides from degrading permafrost into new lakes in de-glaciating mountain ranges. Geomorphology 293:405–417. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Hooke RL (1991) Positive feedbacks associated with erosion of glacial cirques and overdeepenings. Geol Soc Am Bull 103:1104–1108.;2CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Hooke RL (2005) Principles of glacier mechanics. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hubbard B, Heald A, Reynolds JM, Quincey D, Richardson SD, Luyo MZ, Portilla NS, Hambrey MJ (2005) Impact of a rock avalanche on a moraine-dammed proglacial lake: Laguna Safuna Alta, Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Earth Surf Process Land 30(10):1251–1264. Scholar
  47. Huggel C, Kääb A, Haeberli W, Krummenacher B (2003) Regional-scale GIS-models for assessment of hazards from glacier lake outbursts: evaluation and application in the Swiss Alps. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 3(6):647–662. Scholar
  48. Huss M (2011) Present and future contribution of glacier storage change to runoff from macroscale drainage basins in Europe. Water Resour Res 47(7):n/a–n/a.
  49. ICIMOD (2011) Glacial lakes and glacial lake outburst floods in Nepal. ICIMOD, KathmanduGoogle Scholar
  50. Iribarren Anacona P, Norton KP, Mackintosh A (2014) Moraine-dammed lake failures in Patagonia and assessment of outburst susceptibility in the Baker Basin. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 14(12):3243–3259. Scholar
  51. Iturrizaga L (2014) Glacial and glacially conditioned lake types in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru: a spatiotemporal conceptual approach. Prog Phys Geogr 38:602–636. Scholar
  52. Iverson NR (2002) Processes of glacial erosion. In: Menzies J (ed) Modern and past glacier environments. Butterworth-Heinimann, Oxford, pp 131–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. James WHM, Carrivick JL (2016) Automated modelling of spatially-distributed glacier ice thickness and volume. Comput Geosci 92:90–103. Scholar
  54. Kääb A, Haeberli W (2001) Evolution of a high-mountain thermokarst lake in the swiss alps. Arct Antarct Alp Res 33(4):385–390. Scholar
  55. Khanal NR, Mool PK, Shrestha AB, Rasul G, Ghimire PK, Shrestha RB, Joshi SP (2015) A comprehensive approach and methods for glacial lake outburst flood risk assessment, with examples from Nepal and the transboundary area. Int J Water Resour Dev 31(2):219–237. Scholar
  56. Koinig KA, Kamenik C, Schmidt R, Agustí-Panareda A, Appleby P, Lami A, Prazakova M, Rose N, Schnell ØA, Tessadri R, Thompson R, Psenner R (2002) Environmental changes in an alpine lake (Gossenköllesee, austria) over the last two centuries—the influence of air temperature on biological parameters. J Paleolimnol 28(1):147–160. Scholar
  57. Korup O, Tweed F (2007) Ice, moraine, and landslide dams in mountainous terrain. Quatern Sci Rev 26(25–28):3406–3422. Scholar
  58. Kummu M, Lu XX, Wang JJ, Varis O (2010) Basin-wide sediment trapping efficiency of emerging reservoirs along the Mekong. Geomorphology 119(3–4):181–197. Scholar
  59. Lane SN, Bakker M, Gabbud C, Micheletti N, Saugy JN (2017) Sediment export, transient landscape response and catchment-scale connectivity following rapid climate warming and Alpine glacier recession. Geomorphology 277:210–227. Scholar
  60. Larsen DJ, Miller GH, Geirsdóttir Á, Thordarson T (2011) A 3000-year varved record of glacier activity and climate change from the proglacial lake Hvítárvatn, Iceland. Quater Sci Rev 30(19–20):2715–2731. Scholar
  61. Leemann A, Niessen F (1994) Varve formation and the climatic record in an Alpine proglacial lake: calibrating annually- laminated sediments against hydrological and meteorological data. Holocene 4:1–8. Scholar
  62. Linsbauer A, Paul F, Hoelzle M, Frey H, Haeberli W (2009) The Swiss Alps without glaciers—a GIS-based modelling approach for reconstruction of glacier beds. In: Purves R, Gruber S, Straumann R, Hengl T (eds) Geomorphometry. Zürich, pp 243–247Google Scholar
  63. Linsbauer A, Frey H, Haeberli W, Machguth H, Azam MF, Allen S (2016) Modelling glacier-bed overdeepenings and possible future lakes for the glaciers in the Himalaya—Karakoram region. Ann Glaciol 57(71):119–130. Scholar
  64. Linsbauer A, Paul F, Haeberli W (2012) Modeling glacier thickness distribution and bed topography over entire mountain ranges with GlabTop: application of a fast and robust approach. J Geophys Res Earth Surf 117(F3):F03007. Scholar
  65. Maanya US, Kulkarni AV, Tiwari A, Bhar ED, Srinivasan J (2016) Identification of potential glacial lake sites and mapping maximum extent of existing glacier lakes in Drang Drung and Samudra Tapu glaciers, Indian Himalaya. Curr Sci 111(3):553–560. Scholar
  66. McColl ST (2012) Paraglacial rock-slope stability. Geomorphology 153–154:1–16. Scholar
  67. Menounos B, Clague JJ, Gilbert R, Slaymaker O (2005) Environmental reconstruction from a varve network in the southern Coast Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. Holocene 15(8):1163–1171. Scholar
  68. Messager ML, Lehner B, Grill G, Nedeva I, Schmitt O (2016) Estimating the volume and age of water stored in global lakes using a geo-statistical approach. Nat Commun 7:13603.,
  69. Mool PK, Wangda D, Bajracharya SR, Kunzang K, Gurung DR, Joshi SP (2001) Inventory of glaciers, glacial lakes and glacial lake ouburst floods—monitoring and early warning systems in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, Bhutan. International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), KathmanduGoogle Scholar
  70. Mulu A, Dwarakish GS (2015) Different approach for using trap efficiency for estimation of reservoir sedimentation. An Overview. Aquat Procedia 4:847–852. Scholar
  71. O’Connor JE, Costa JE (2004) The world’s largest floods, past and present: their causes and magnitudes. U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VirginiaGoogle Scholar
  72. Paterson W (1994) The physics of glaciers, 480 pp. Pergamon, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Paul F, Kääb A, Haeberli W (2007) Recent glacier changes in the Alps observed by satellite: consequences for future monitoring strategies. Glob Planet Change 56:111–122. Scholar
  74. Reynolds J (1992) The identification and mitigation of glacier-related hazards: examples from the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. In: McCall G, Laming D, Scott S (eds) Geohazards. Chapman and Hall, London, pp 143–157Google Scholar
  75. Richardson SD, Reynolds JM (2000) An overview of glacial hazards in the Himalayas. Quatern Int 65–66:31–47. Scholar
  76. Robinson M, Bristow C, McKinley J, Ruffell A (2012) 1.5.5 Ground penetrating radar. Geomorphological Techniques (Online Edition). British Society for Geomorphology, LondonGoogle Scholar
  77. Rubensdotter L, Rosqvist G (2009) Influence of geomorphological setting, fluvial-, glaciofluvial- and mass- movement processes on sedimentation in alpine lakes. Holocene 19:665–678. Scholar
  78. Sakai A, Nishimura K, Kadota T, Takeuchi N (2009) Onset of calving at supraglacial lakes on debris-covered glaciers of the Nepal Himalaya. J Glaciol 55(193):909–917. Scholar
  79. Sartori M, Baillifard F, Jaboyedoff M, Rouiller JD (2003) Kinematics of the 1991 Randa rockslides (Valais, Switzerland). Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 3(5):423–433. Scholar
  80. Schiefer E (2006) Contemporary sedimentation rates and depositional structures in a montane lake basin, southern Coast Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. Earth Surf Process Land 31(10):1311–1324. Scholar
  81. Schiefer E, Gilbert R (2008) Proglacial sediment trapping in recently formed Silt Lake, upper Lillooet Valley, Coast Mountains, British Columbia. Earth Surf Proc Land 33(10):1542–1556. Scholar
  82. Seibert J, Jenicek M, Huss M, Ewen T (2015) Chapter 4—Snow and ice in the hydrosphere A2—Shroder, John F. In: Haeberli W, Whiteman C (eds) Snow and ice-related hazards, risks and disasters. Academic Press, Boston, pp 99–137. Scholar
  83. Somos-Valenzuela MA, Chisolm RE, Rivas DS, Portocarrero C, McKinney DC (2016) Modeling glacial lake outburst flood process chain: the case of Lake Palcacocha and Huaraz, Peru. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci Discuss 2016:1–61. Scholar
  84. Song C, Sheng Y, Wang J, Ke L, Madson A, Nie Y (2017) Heterogeneous glacial lake changes and links of lake expansions to the rapid thinning of adjacent glacier termini in the Himalayas. Geomorphology 280:30–38. Scholar
  85. Thomas EK, Briner JP (2009) Climate of the past millennium inferred from varved proglacial lake sediments on northeast Baffin Island, Arctic Canada. J Paleolimnol 41(1):209–224. Scholar
  86. Tsutaki S, Nishimura D, Yoshizawa T, Sugiyama S (2011) Changes in glacier dynamics under the influence of proglacial lake formation in Rhonegletscher, Switzerland. Ann Glaciol 52(58):31–36. Scholar
  87. U.S. Department of Agriculture NRCS (2016) National soil survey handbook, title 430-VI—Part 629—Glossary Of Landform And Geologic Terms. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Accessed 21 May 2016
  88. Veettil BK, Bianchini N, de Andrade AM, Bremer UF, Simões JC, de Souza Junior E (2016) Glacier changes and related glacial lake expansion in the Bhutan Himalaya, 1990–2010. Reg Environ Change 16(5):1267–1278. Scholar
  89. Verstraeten G, Poesen J (2000) Estimating trap efficiency of small reservoirs and ponds: methods and implications for the assessment of sediment yield. Prog Phys Geogr 24(2):219–251. Scholar
  90. Vilímek V, Klimeš J, Červená L (2016) Glacier-related landforms and glacial lakes in Huascarán National Park, Peru. J Maps 12(1):193–202. Scholar
  91. Wang SJ, Jiao S (2015) Evolution and outburst risk analysis of moraine-dammed lakes in the central Chinese Himalaya. J Earth Syst Sci 124(3):567–576CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Wang W, Xiang Y, Gao Y, Lu A, Yao T (2015) Rapid expansion of glacial lakes caused by climate and glacier retreat in the Central Himalayas. Hydrol Process 29(6):859–874. Scholar
  93. Watanabe TRD (1996) The 1994 Lugge Tsho Glacial Lake Outburst Flood, Bhutan Himalaya. Mountain Research and Development 16:77–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Whitemann CA (2011) Cold regions hazards and risks. Wiley-Blackwell, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  95. Worni R, Stoffel M, Huggel C, Volz C, Casteller A, Luckman B (2012) Analysis and dynamic modeling of a moraine failure and glacier lake outburst flood at Ventisquero Negro, Patagonian Andes (Argentina). J Hydrol 444–445:134–145. Scholar
  96. Worni R, Huggel C, Clague JJ, Schaub Y, Stoffel M (2014) Coupling glacial lake impact, dam breach, and flood processes: a modeling perspective. Geomorphology 224:161–176. Scholar
  97. Zhang G, Yao T, Xie H, Wang W, Yang W (2015) An inventory of glacial lakes in the third pole region and their changes in response to global warming. Glob Planet Change 131:148–157. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and GeologyUniversity of SalzburgSalzburgAustria

Personalised recommendations