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Living Dangerously Cool with Jökulhlaups (yo-KOOL-lahps)


Since 2011, Suicide Basin—a partly glacierized basin of the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska—has released annual glacier lake outburst floods in which the basin’s water level can rise by an order of magnitude or more. Called jökulhlaups by icelanders and glaciologists, these events cause flooding and erosion that endanger lives and damage nearby homes and infrastructure. Interested in better understanding the threat, a team of researchers, including the Alaska Regional Integrated Science and Assessments (RISA) team, used in-situ and remote sensing data, partly collected with unmanned aerial vehicles, to monitor water buildup and drainage in Suicide Basin. Results show that ice dam thinning in the basin reduces its water storage capacity, but this is counteracted by declining ice volume and longitudinal growth in the basin. Successful monitoring of the glacier’s water level in this study indicates that the techniques and technologies used, and the observations generated by them, could be used in future glacier monitoring and predictions. Although some challenges remain, the overall goal is to develop a model to predict jökulhlaups in order to protect the people and places at risk from them. 

The study was a collaboration among the University of Alaska Southeast, the USGS Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center, the National Weather Service, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, including the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP), a NOAA/CPO RISA Team. ACCAP’s Dr. Dina Abdel-Fattah contributed by analyzing how scientific information about glacial lake outburst floods is interpreted and used by stakeholders in affected communities, including Juneau and the Kenai peninsula. ACCAP’s work is an example of applied and co-produced science, with the goal of working with partners to help them better understand the impact and value of their science products. Abdel-Fattah also worked closely with the City and Borough of Juneau to ensure the flood-related information needs of emergency responders were met.

Read the study »

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