EGU21-4774, updated on 13 Jan 2022
EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

A global inventory of potential future glacial lakes

Louis Frey1, Holger Frey1, Matthias Huss2,3, Simon Allen1, Daniel Farinotti2,3, Christian Huggel1, Adam Emmer4, and Dan Shugar5
Louis Frey et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland (
  • 2Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology (VAW), ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 3Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research (WSL), Birmensdorf ZH, Switzerland
  • 4Institute of Geography and Regional Science, University of Graz, Graz, Austria
  • 5Water, Sediment, Hazards, and Earth-surface Dynamics (waterSHED) Lab, Department of Geoscience, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

A prominent phenomenon accompanying glacier retreat is the formation of new lakes. Such glacial lakes are the subject of numerous studies and investigations due to their potential to produce far-reaching glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), but also because they might provide opportunities for water resource management and energy production. Here we present a first global inventory of potential future glacial lakes, along with expected formation times under different RCP scenarios.

From published datasets of ice thickness distributions of all glaciers of the world, we identified glacier bed overdeepenings and extracted parameters of potential future lakes, such as area, depth and volume. The consideration of the ensemble of ice thicknesses allowed for a first-order quantification of uncertainties. We identified 67,000 (ranging from 55,000 to 87,000) overdeepenings with volumes larger than 1 x 106 m3, the total surface area and volume of corresponding potential lakes is 61,000 (56,000 to 64,000) km2 and 4,600 (3,100 to 7,200) km3, respectively. However, these numbers are based on the assumption of fully water-filled overdeepenings and therefore represent upper bound estimates. Global results are strongly influenced by very large depressions identified beneath (flat) polar glaciers and ice caps.  We then combined potential future lake sites with estimated future glacier extents from a global glacier evolution model (GloGEM), in order to estimate formation periods of these future lakes, considering different RCPs. Strong regional differences are also found in the anticipated formation periods: While in the low latitudes most future lakes are expected to form in the current decade, irrespective of the RCP, Arctic regions have highest lake formation rates towards the end of the 21st century, with the majority of bed overdeepening not being exposed by glacier retreat until 2100. In mid latitude mountain regions, large differences between RCP2.6 and RCP8.5 exist in regard of the timing of lake formation and the amount of total uncovered overdeepenings.

In addition to geometric properties and expected formation periods, the topographic potential for impacting mass movements, such as rock or ice avalanches, is determined for each overdeepening. In combination with potential lake volume and watershed area of the lake, these characteristics can be used for a first order estimation of lake outburst susceptibility. With a basic flow routing algorithm, potential outburst trajectories are modeled for each overdeepening. In combination with information on population density, settlements and further socio-economic and environmental datasets, this information can be used for future analyses of hazards, risks and opportunities associated with these potential future glacial lakes.

How to cite: Frey, L., Frey, H., Huss, M., Allen, S., Farinotti, D., Huggel, C., Emmer, A., and Shugar, D.: A global inventory of potential future glacial lakes, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-4774,, 2021.

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