Scientist warns of water build-up near Uttarakhand disaster zone

It could tip over a mass of rock and debris, thereby impeding ongoing rescue operations

Updated - November 28, 2021 02:26 pm IST

Published - February 11, 2021 10:20 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

A rescue operation near Raini village was halted due to surge in water levels of the Rishiganga on Thursday.

A rescue operation near Raini village was halted due to surge in water levels of the Rishiganga on Thursday.

A fresh pool of water may be building up in the Rishi Ganga river that could tip over a mass of rock and debris, thereby impeding ongoing rescue operations in Uttarakhand .

Geologist Naresh Rana of the the HNB Gadhwal University, Srinagar Gadhwal, Uttarakhand, in a report from Reni village, said that the flow of the Rishi Ganga river had been blocked by rock and debris — forming a sort of natural dam — and this could potentially roll down and impede ongoing relief operations. The height of this dam and the accumulated mass of water is unknown.

The debris is from the avalanche on Sunday that had resulted from the breaking of a large portion of rock and ice from the Raunthi peak, that when combined with snow melt and, possibly, an accumulated pool of water, had hurtled down the Raunthi stream and avalanched, leading to the destruction of two hydropower plants and the trapping and killing of workmen at the Tapovan hydropower project. The Raunthi stream has a confluence with the Rishi Ganga and Sunday’s disaster saw the avalanche hurtle from the confluence down the main stem of the Rishi Ganga.


Dr. Rana has shared video clips, which were aired on NDTV-India on Thursday, where he is seen at the confluence of the Rishi Ganga river and the Raunthi stream (from where the glacier avalanche progressed). “It is clearly visible from here that because of the flooding, the Rishi Ganga has been dammed. I don’t know when, but at some point, this [natural dam] will be breached and could cause another flood, and so the workers downstream need to be warned and prepared.”

Dr. Rana’s phone was unreachable but The Hindu contacted Navin Juyal, a geologist, who had accompanied Dr. Rana and was with him until February 6 (a day before the disaster), as part of a geological expedition. Dr. Juyal confirmed the authenticity of the clips and told The Hindu that while the danger of flooding existed, it was unlikely to be of the magnitude seen on Sunday.

“Because it’s winter, there’s very little water that has been stopped. I heard from another colleague on the ground that already water from the Rishi Ganga has started to flow from the top of the dam. We have also informed State and disaster response authorities and they tell us they are aware of the situation and are taking appropriate action,” Dr. Juyal said.

A senior of official of the National Disaster Response Force independently told The Hindu that the pool was 8 km above Raini and was being independently examined by scientists from the Defence Research and Development Organisation.


While several scientist teams have made their way towards the upper Himalayas, nobody has been able to reach the spot on foot because a connecting bridge has been destroyed. A few aerial surveys have been conducted but there’s still uncertainty on what caused the rock to break off and trigger an avalanche. All knowledge of the events so far are from the analysis of satellite imagery.

The disaster has evoked the interest of several international teams of geologists who are poring over images trying to ascertain whether there are glacial lakes that may have fed the avalanche. So far, the consensus is that events of February 7 were not due to a glacial lake being breached, and likely due to a huge mass of snow, ice and mountain debris coalescing and hurtling down a stream.

( With inputs from Devesh Pandey )

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