EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Glacier and permafrost hazard and risk management: from science to policy and implementation

Holger Frey1, Simon Allen1,2, Christian Huggel1, and Divya Kashyap Sharma3
Holger Frey et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland (
  • 2Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 3Swiss Cooperation Office India, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, New Delhi, India

Glacier and permafrost hazards in cold mountain regions encompass various flood and mass movement processes that are strongly affected by climate change. Rising temperatures cause glacier retreat, permafrost thawing and degradation, with underground warming continuously propagating at greater depths. These cumulative changes, happening at different time scales, generally exacerbate slope stability and increase the probability for destructive mass movement events. Outbursts of glacial lakes, which are newly forming and growing with glacier retreat, are destructive processes with potential reaches of several hundreds of kilometers. These events often involve chains of cascading and interacting mass movement processes, threating mountain communities which are typically highly vulnerable, but also putting at risk critical infrastructure such as roads, buildings, agricultural land and hydropower installations.

Here we present a series of research and cooperation projects, funded by the Global Programme Climate Change and Environment of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). These projects supported the development of guidelines for hazard assessment, contributed substantially to the elaboration of risk management guidelines for Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) for India, and eventually led to supporting the design and implementation of a GLOF Early Warning System (EWS) in Sikkim, India.

From 2016 to 2017, a large consortium of international experts from the Standing Group on Glacier and Permafrost Hazards (GAPHAZ) of the International Association of Cryospheric Sciences and International Permafrost Association (IACS/IPA), elaborated a technical guidance document on the assessment of glacier and permafrost hazards in mountain regions. This guidance document reflects the current state-of-the-art of future oriented, scenario based hazard assessment and mapping, supported by physically based, numerical models. Building on that, scientists involved in the elaboration of this document have been invited as international experts in the elaboration of Guidelines for the Management of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods for India, led by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) of the Indian Government. This document builds on the concepts in the GAPHAZ guidelines, but beyond hazard assessment includes also relevant aspects of risk management and DRR, while being specifically tailored to the situation of Indian Himalayan States. Currently efforts are ongoing to implement a multi-lake EWS in the Teesta River Basin in Sikkim, India with the support of NDMA. This project, which also involves the government of Sikkim, local stakeholders, Swiss universities and companies and SDC, is considered by NDMA as a pilot study for the implementation of the new GLOF management guidelines described above.

These continued long-term efforts provide invaluable learnings on collaborative scientific efforts, transdisciplinary work at the science-policy interface, and joint efforts of the academia, public and private sector towards real world applications of disaster risk management under challenging conditions.

How to cite: Frey, H., Allen, S., Huggel, C., and Kashyap Sharma, D.: Glacier and permafrost hazard and risk management: from science to policy and implementation, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-10234,, 2022.