Rosie Riley
Written by Rosie Riley
Published on 15th March 2016
2 min read
Scientific research, community development and alpine mountaineering in the Karakoram Mountains

The biggest mystery in glacial science

Lying between the great Asian powers of China, India and Pakistan the Karakoram Mountains are home to the largest glaciers on the planet outside of the poles. The Indus River swells from these glaciers and feeds two hundred million people in Pakistan and India. It is their lifeline.

The Karakoram Glaciers are the biggest mystery in glacial science. When glaciers all over the world are retreating, the Karakoram are growing. This phenomenon is dubbed the ‘Karakoram Anomaly’.

The risk of an inland Tsunami

When ice damming a glacial lake breaches, it causes a torrent of water ice and rock. This ‘inland tsunami’ destroys anything in its path and known as a ‘glacial lake outburst flood’ (GLOF).

Over 80,000 people in the Himalayas are at risk of glacial lake outburst flooding of which there have been more than thirty in the past twenty years.The rapidly advancing glaciers of the Karakoram Mountains are prone to damming river valleys and increasing the risk of an inland tsunami.

Climate change and topography may be making GLOF more dangerous and unpredictable.

The Karakoram Anomaly Project

In the summer of 2015, a group of intrepid explorers, scientists and cinematographers set out to find out more about the glacial lake outburst flood threat caused by the Karakoram Anomaly. They were committed to communicating the results of their findings with the local communities and explore mitigation strategies in a bottom-up approach.

Their project mixed science with community development and alpine mountaineering to understand this glacial phenomenon and reduce the risk of thousands of livelihoods being destroyed in the Himalayas.

The Karakoram Anomaly Project team includes: