Himalayas in Danger of Tsunami

Glacial melt and earthquakes increase risk


For exclusive access to all of our fitness, gear, adventure, and travel stories, plus discounts on trips, events, and gear, sign up for Outside+ today and save 20 percent.

In the Himalayas, you tend to worry about icefall or snowstorms. Tsunamis—not so much. At least, that was the pre-global warming situation. Researchers at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) say that alarming rates of glacial melting could up the risk of a Himalayan tsunami.

When glaciers melt and form lakes, the natural barriers holding them back can give way with the help of water pressure, erosion, or earthquakes, unleashing a torrent of meltwater. With warming temperatures, some glaciers are melting at concerning rates. More glacial lakes increase the possibility of outbursts, and more frequent outbursts mean a higher tsunami risk.

What would happen if a tsunami did occur? Residents of at-risk regions may not have much time to prepare. One power station near the village of Jhirpu Phulpingkatt would only be able to detect and send out a warning for floodwaters once they are in Nepali territory, leaving only a few minutes to evacuate. “All of us would have to run for our lives,” the manager of the station said.