A massive rock and ice avalanche caused the 2021 disaster at Chamoli, Indian Himalaya

D. H. Shugar (Lead / Corresponding author), M. Jacquemart, D. Shean, S. Bhushan, K. Upadhyay, A. Sattar, W. Schwanghart, S. McBride, M. Van Wyk de Vries, M. Mergili, A. Emmer, C. Deschamps-Berger, M. McDonnell, R. Bhambri, S. Allen, E. Berthier, J. L. Carrivick, J. J. Clague, M. Dokukin, S. A. DunningH. Frey, S. Gascoin, U. K. Haritashya, C. Huggel, A. Kääb, J. S. Kargel, J. L. Kavanaugh, P. Lacroix, D. Petley, S. Rupper, M. F. Azam, S. J. Cook, A. P. Dimri, M. Eriksson, D. Farinotti, J. Fiddes, K. R. Gnyawali, S. Harrison, M. Jha, M. Koppes, A. Kumar, S. Leinss, U. Majeed, S. Mal, A. Muhuri, J. Noetzli, F. Paul, I. Rashid, K. Sain, J. Steiner, F. Ugalde, C. S. Watson, M. J. Westoby

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Abstract

On 7 Feb 2021, a catastrophic mass flow descended the Ronti Gad, Rishiganga, and Dhauliganga valleys in Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India, causing widespread devastation and severely damaging two hydropower projects. Over 200 people were killed or are missing. Our analysis of satellite imagery, seismic records, numerical model results, and eyewitness videos reveals that ~27x106 m3 of rock and glacier ice collapsed from the steep north face of Ronti Peak. The rock and ice avalanche rapidly transformed into an extraordinarily large and mobile debris flow that transported boulders >20 m in diameter, and scoured the valley walls up to 220 m above the valley floor. The intersection of the hazard cascade with downvalley infrastructure resulted in a disaster, which highlights key questions about adequate monitoring and sustainable development in the Himalaya as well as other remote, high-mountain environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300-306
Number of pages7
JournalScience (New York, N.Y.)
Volume373
Issue number6552
Early online date10 Jun 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2021

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