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Journal Article

Less extreme and earlier outbursts of ice-dammed lakes since 1900


Veh,  Georg
External Organizations;

Lützow,  Natalie
External Organizations;

Tamm,  Jenny
External Organizations;


Luna,  Lisa
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

Hugonnet,  Romain
External Organizations;

Vogel,  Kristin
External Organizations;

Geertsema,  Marten
External Organizations;

Clague,  John J.
External Organizations;

Korup,  Oliver
External Organizations;

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Veh, G., Lützow, N., Tamm, J., Luna, L., Hugonnet, R., Vogel, K., Geertsema, M., Clague, J. J., Korup, O. (2023): Less extreme and earlier outbursts of ice-dammed lakes since 1900. - Nature, 614, 701-707.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_28972
Episodic failures of ice-dammed lakes have produced some of the largest floods in history, with disastrous consequences for communities in high mountains1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Yet, estimating changes in the activity of ice-dam failures through time remains controversial because of inconsistent regional flood databases. Here, by collating 1,569 ice-dam failures in six major mountain regions, we systematically assess trends in peak discharge, volume, annual timing and source elevation between 1900 and 2021. We show that extreme peak flows and volumes (10 per cent highest) have declined by about an order of magnitude over this period in five of the six regions, whereas median flood discharges have fallen less or have remained unchanged. Ice-dam floods worldwide today originate at higher elevations and happen about six weeks earlier in the year than in 1900. Individual ice-dammed lakes with repeated outbursts show similar negative trends in magnitude and earlier occurrence, although with only moderate correlation to glacier thinning8. We anticipate that ice dams will continue to fail in the near future, even as glaciers thin and recede. Yet widespread deglaciation, projected for nearly all regions by the end of the twenty-first century9, may bring most outburst activity to a halt.