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Prediction and assessment of multiple glacial lake outburst floods scenario in Pho Chu River basin, Bhutan


Rabindra Osti, International Centre for Water Hazard and Risk Management, Public Works Research Institute, Minamihara 1-6, Tsukuba 305-8516, Japan.



In this study, the characteristic of multiple glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) in the Pho Chu River basin in Bhutanese Himalayas is evaluated to help assess the potential impact. Thorthormi Cho (TC) and Lugge Cho (LC) in the east branch and two unnamed lakes labelled A and B in the west branch of Pho Chu are chosen for the study. Numerical models were employed to simulate different involved processes. The results show that the peak sediment discharge in the east branch of the Pho Chu River by the TC dam breach reached about 5000 m3/s (during the first GLOF) at 4 km whereas by the LC dam breach is about 600 m3/s (second GLOF) at 6 km. However, the highest peak hydrographs (sediment and water mixture) calculated during the first and second GLOF are about 10 000 m3/s at the 18-km section and about 23 000 m3/s at the 10-km section, respectively. In the west branch of Pho Chu, erosion and depositions are the frequent intermittent local processes during the first GLOF event from Lake A. Because the first event stabilized the irregular river bed profile, there is not much sediment discharge developed during the second GLOF from Lake B. At the 17-km section of the west branch, the peak hydrograph reached about 9000 m3/s during the first event against the peak of about 800 m3/s during the second event. The results suggest that even if multiple dam breaches occur simultaneously, GLOF surges pass through the main river channel at different times with very different flood characteristics. The differences in travel time and flood characteristics mostly depend on the distributions of bed slope and potential erosion depth along the reach. Further, the amount of sediment accumulated in and transported by each surge is reliant on the temporal geomorphologic setting of the river and therefore on the impact of the previous GLOF on riverbed profile and potential erosion depth. The robustness in peak GLOF hydrographs is associated with sediment flow dynamics. As a consequence, serious inundation of Punakha, Lobeysa and major portion of Wangdue Phodrang is anticipated. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.