Sciences in Cold and Arid Regions ›› 2020, Vol. 12 ›› Issue (6): 461-476.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1226.2020.00461

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Zhangmu and Gyirong ports under the threat of glacial lake outburst flood

MiaoMiao Qi1,2,ShiYin Liu1,2,3(),YongPeng Gao1,2   

  1. 1.Yunnan Key Laboratory of International Rivers and Transboundary Eco-Security, Yunnan University, Kunming, Yunnan 650091, China
    2.Institute of International Rivers and Eco-security, Yunnan University, Kunming, Yunnan 650091, China
    3.State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
  • Received:2020-09-04 Accepted:2020-12-01 Online:2020-12-31 Published:2021-01-14
  • Contact: ShiYin Liu
  • Supported by:
    the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research Program(Grant 2019QZKK0208);the Innovation Fund Designated to Graduate Students of Yunnan University(2020Z47);the National Natural Science Foundation of China(41761144075);the Research Seed Fund for Talents of Yunnan University(YJRC3201702)


The Himalayas are prone to glacial lake outburst floods, which can pose a severe threat to downstream villages and infrastructure. The Zhangmu and Gyirong land treaty ports are located on the China-Nepal border in the central Himalayas. In recent years, the expansion of glacial lakes has increased the threat of these two port regions. This article describes the results of mapping the glacial lakes larger than 0.01 km2 in the Zhangmu and Gyirong port regions and analyzes their change. It provides a comprehensive assessment of potentially dangerous glacial lakes and predicts the development of future glacial lakes. From 1988 to 2019, the glacial lakes in these port regions underwent "expansion", and moraine-dammed lakes show the most significant expansion trend. A total of eleven potentially dangerous glacial lakes are identified based on the assessment criteria and historical outburst events; most expanded by more than 150% from 1988 to 2019, with some by over 500%. The Cirenmaco, a moraine-dammed lake, is extremely prone to overtopping due to ice avalanches or the melting of dead ice in the dam. For other large lakes, such as the Jialongco, Gangxico and Galongco, ice avalanches may likely cause the lakes to burst besides self-destructive failure. The potential dangers of the Youmojianco glacial lakes, including lakes Nos. 9, 10 and 11, will increase in the future. In addition, the glacier-bed topography model predicts that 113 glacial lakes with a size larger than 0.01 km2, a total area of 11.88 km2 and a total volume of 6.37×109 m3 will form in the study area by the end of the 21 century. Due to global warming, the glacial lakes in the Zhangmu and Gyirong port regions will continue to grow in the short term, and hence the risk of glacial lake outburst floods will increase.

Key words: Zhangmu and Gyirong ports, glacier lake expansion, potentially dangerous glacial lakes, future lake development

Table 1

Historical GLOF events in the ZPR and GPR"





(Long., Lat.)


(m a.s.l.)

Burst water (×106 m3)DamageTriggerReference



5,2456.3Inundated farmlandDam collapse by seepageChen et al. (2007)





4,655N/A200 death, destroyed a bridge and a hydropower station


Ice avalanche

Xu et al. (1989)





4,37423.6Destroyed a hydropower station and highwayIce avalancheChen et al. (2006)
Gongbatongsha Tsho7/5/2016



4,608N/ADamaged the Bhotekoshi hydropower station and China-Nepal highwayContinual rainstormChina Science Daily
Longda Tsho8/25/1964



5,46010.8Destroyed downstream roads and villagesIce avalancheNie et al. (2018)



4,745N/AIce slides

Figure 1

Map of the Zhangmu and Gyirong Port Region"

Table 2

Landsat images used to map glacial lakes"







1141/40Landsat 5/TM11/29/198815141/40Landsat 5/TM11/20/2008
2141/41Landsat 5/TM11/12/198816141/41Landsat 5/TM11/20/2008
3141/40Landsat 5/TM10/13/199417141/40Landsat 5/TM01/23/2009
4141/41Landsat 5/TM12/16/199418141/41Landsat 5/TM12/09/2009
5141/40Landsat 5/TM12/15/199619141/40Landsat 5/TM10/28/2011
6141/41Landsat 5/TM12/21/199620141/41Landsat 5/TM02/14/2011
7141/40Landsat 5/TM12/30/199921141/40Landsat 8/OLI12/04/2013
8141/41Landsat 5/TM11/25/199822141/41Landsat 8/OLI12/04/2013
9141/40Landsat 5/TM10/13/200023141/40Landsat 8/OLI12/10/2015
10141/41Landsat 5/TM10/3/200024141/41Landsat 8/OLI10/07/2015
11141/40Landsat 5/TM11/19/200425141/40Landsat 8/OLI12/31/2017
12141/41Landsat 5/TM12/11/200426141/41Landsat 8/OLI11/13/2017
13141/40Landsat 5/TM01/31/200627141/40Landsat 8/OLI11/19/2019
14141/41Landsat 5/TM12/01/200628141/41Landsat 8/OLI11/19/2019

Table 3

The criteria for the identification of PDGLs"

Evaluation objectEvaluation indicatorCritical valueReferences
Moraine/ice-dammed lakeArea>0.1 km2Wang et al. (2012)
Area expansion>20% increaseICIMOD (2011)
Moraine damSlope angle of dam downstream surface>20°Wang et al. (2011)
Mother glacierArea>2 km2et al. (1999)
Slope angle of the glacier tongue>10°Rounce et al. (2017)
Distance between the lake and the mother glacierDistance from the mother glacier (m)<500et al. (1999)

Table 4

Numbers and areas of glacial lakes in the ZPR and GPR between 1988 and 2018"

YearTypeZPRGPRTotalAverage altitude (m a.s.l.)
Number/Area (km2)Number/Area (km2)Number/Area (km2)

Figure 2

Distribution of glacial lakes in different altitude zones and size classes of the ZPR and GPR in 2019 (Note: S, M, and U represent supraglacial lakes, moraine-dammed lakes, and glacier-fed unconnected lakes, respectively, and this applies to other figures hereafter)"

Figure 3

Variation of the number and area of glacial lakes in the ZPR and GPR from 1988 to 2019"

Figure 4

Change of continuously present lakes from 1988 to 2019 (a) and altitudinal distribution of newly formed lakes in 2019 (b)"

Figure 5

Variation of the number and area of moraine-dammed lakes (a) and glacier-fed unconnected lake (b) of different size classes from 1988 to 2019"

Figure 6

Variation of the number and area of moraine-dammed lakes (M), glacier-fed unconnected lake (U) and supraglacial lakes (S) in different altitude zones from 1988 to 2019"

Figure 7

Spatial distribution of potentially dangerous glacial lakes. (a) Location of PDGLs in the ZPR and GPR. (b) Volume change of PDGLs between 1988 and 2019 (Note: the volume of Gangxico and Galongco is reduced by ten times in (b) to fit in the graph)"

Table 5

Information and statistics of the PDGLs in the ZPR and GPR"

No.NameLocationAltitude (m a.s.l.)Area (km2) and change
7Unnamed85.56°E28.43°N4,872No lake0.28±0.03/
8Unnamed85.56°E28.22°N3,989No lake0.10±0.01/
11Unnamed85.90°E28.15°N4,495No lake0.23±0.03/

Figure 8

Variation of the area and peak discharge of the PDGLs in the ZPR and GPR from 1988 to 2019"

Figure 9

Modeled predicted future glacial lakes. (a) Distribution of the predicted 16 future glacial lakes in the ZPR and GPR. (b) Distribution of the ice thickness from Farinotti et al. (2019). (c) and (d) The two largest lakes in the basin. Yellow rectangles in Figure (a) show the position of the two largest lakes"

Table 6

Statistics for the large glacial lakes (≥0.2 km2) in the ZPR and GPR predicted by glacier-bed topography model."

No.LocationArea (km2)Depth (m)


(×108 m3)

Possible peak discharge (m3/s)
185.71 °E28.25 °N1.37±0.100.0040.89113.2110.8441,336
285.88 °E28.40 °N1.24±0.091.7532.4065.465.9927,946
386.23 °E28.33 °N0.64±0.050.0033.6367.075.0224,870
485.77 °E28.26 °N0.63±0.050.0022.2851.744.9824,739
585.54 °E28.49 °N0.60±0.080.0025.7458.291.5611,499
685.83 °E28.33 °N0.52±0.042.9840.8286.393.3719,118
785.65 °E28.40 °N0.48±0.040.6931.3480.911.9613,369
885.75 °E28.32 °N0.42±0.030.0017.4742.412.8116,957
985.58 °E28.28 °N0.36±0.040.3139.8380.992.2414,601
1085.55 °E28.41 °N0.35±0.040.0049.8591.351.209,671
1185.79 °E28.16 °N0.28±0.030.7621.2747.982.7416,677
1285.31 °E28.50 °N0.22±0.022.6312.2022.540.525,569
1385.62 °E28.37 °N0.22±0.033.4838.8567.010.817,461
1485.79 °E28.30 °N0.21±0.020.0023.6841.221.5211,304
1585.91 °E28.15 °N0.21±0.038.1733.5351.181.8212,731
1685.50 °E28.51 °N0.21±0.026.8139.8963.560.475,210
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