Journal cover Journal topic
Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 14, 1611-1624, 2014
© Author(s) 2014. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
27 Jun 2014
Risk estimation for future glacier lake outburst floods based on local land-use changes
S. Nussbaumer1, Y. Schaub1, C. Huggel1, and A. Walz2 1Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
2Institute for Earth and Environmental Science, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany
Abstract. Effects of climate change are particularly strong in high-mountain regions. Most visibly, glaciers are shrinking at a rapid pace, and as a consequence, glacier lakes are forming or growing. At the same time the stability of mountain slopes is reduced by glacier retreat, permafrost thaw and other factors, resulting in an increasing landslide hazard which can potentially impact lakes and therewith trigger far-reaching and devastating outburst floods. To manage risks from existing or future lakes, strategies need to be developed to plan in time for adequate risk reduction measures at a local level. However, methods to assess risks from future lake outbursts are not available and need to be developed to evaluate both future hazard and future damage potential.

Here a method is presented to estimate future risks related to glacier lake outbursts for a local site in southern Switzerland (Naters, Valais). To generate two hazard scenarios, glacier shrinkage and lake formation modelling was applied, combined with simple flood modelling and field work. Furthermore, a land-use model was developed to quantify and allocate land-use changes based on local-to-regional storylines and three scenarios of land-use driving forces. Results are conceptualized in a matrix of three land-use and two hazard scenarios for the year 2045, and show the distribution of risk in the community of Naters, including high and very high risk areas. The study underlines the importance of combined risk management strategies focusing on land-use planning, on vulnerability reduction, as well as on structural measures (where necessary) to effectively reduce future risks related to lake outburst floods.

Citation: Nussbaumer, S., Schaub, Y., Huggel, C., and Walz, A.: Risk estimation for future glacier lake outburst floods based on local land-use changes, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 14, 1611-1624,, 2014.
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