Modelling glacial lake outburst flood impacts in the Bolivian Andes

Ioannis Kougkoulos (Lead / Corresponding author), Simon J. Cook, Laura A. Edwards, Leon J. Clarke, Elias Symeonakis, Jason M. Dortch, Kathleen Nesbitt

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    37 Citations (Scopus)
    277 Downloads (Pure)


    The Bolivian Andes have experienced sustained and widespread glacier mass loss in recent decades. Glacier recession has been accompanied by the development of proglacial lakes, which pose a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) risk to downstream communities and infrastructure. Previous research has identified three potentially dangerous glacial lakes in the Bolivian Andes, but no attempt has yet been made to model GLOF inundation downstream from these lakes. We generated 2-m resolution DEMs from stereo and tri-stereo SPOT 6/7 satellite images to drive a hydrodynamic model of GLOF flow (HEC-RAS 5.0.3). The model was tested against field observations of a 2009 GLOF from Keara, in the Cordillera Apolobamba, and was shown to reproduce realistic flood depths and inundation. The model was then used to model GLOFs from Pelechuco lake (Cordillera Apolobamba) and Laguna Arkhata and Laguna Glaciar (Cordillera Real). In total, six villages could be affected by GLOFs if all three lakes burst. For sensitivity analysis, we ran the model for three scenarios (pessimistic, intermediate, optimistic), which give a range of ~ 1100 to ~ 2200 people affected by flooding; between ~ 800 and ~ 2100 people could be exposed to floods with a flow depth ≥ 2 m, which could be life threatening and cause a significant damage to infrastructure. We suggest that Laguna Arkhata and Pelechuco lake represent the greatest risk due to the higher numbers of people who live in the potential flow paths, and hence, these two glacial lakes should be a priority for risk managers.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1415-1438
    Number of pages24
    JournalNatural Hazards
    Issue number3
    Early online date26 Sept 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


    • Bolivian Andes
    • Geohazards
    • Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs)
    • Hydrodynamic modelling
    • Risk assessment

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Water Science and Technology
    • Atmospheric Science
    • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


    Dive into the research topics of 'Modelling glacial lake outburst flood impacts in the Bolivian Andes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this