Climate change has made the world's deadliest lake way more dangerous

CNET | 12/14/2019 | Staff
AavyAavy (Posted by) Level 4
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I'm standing on a 45-year-old dam high in the Peruvian Andes, gripped by a mix of awe and terror.

The glacial waters of Lake Palcacocha lap at the 25-foot-tall structure. Billions of gallons of meltwater stretch a mile back to the foot of the ice-capped peaks of Palcaraju and Pucaranra that top out at 20,584 feet.

Scientists - Historians - Chunk - Ice - Cap

Scientists and historians believe a huge chunk of glacial ice cap fell into Lake Palcacocha one day in 1941. The instant displacement of millions of gallons of water triggered a massive wave that crashed through a natural barrier. Water, mud, rocks and debris surged into the canyon below and into the streets of Huaraz, the largest city in this part of the Andes and a tourist destination.

The violent rush hit with practically no warning and killed at least 1,800 people.

Moment - Outcome

It could happen again, at any moment. And if it does, the outcome is likely to be much worse.

Small dams were built around Lake Palcacocha in the 1970s, when it was a fraction of its current volume.

Dam - Temperatures - Glaciers - Volume - Lake

The dam I'm standing on hasn't changed since it was built in the 1970s, yet rising temperatures have melted surrounding glaciers, causing the volume of Lake Palcacocha to swell. The lake now holds more than 34 times the volume it did in the early '70s. Meanwhile, Huaraz has reached 120,000 residents. And the number of people living directly in Lake Palcacocha's flood path has grown to tens of thousands.

That's why there are construction crews in bright orange uniforms on a hillside overlooking the lake behind me. And that's why I'm here. I want to see firsthand how the people of the Andes are addressing increasing risks amplified by climate change and working through the unexpected challenges along the way.

Years - Delays - Government

After years of seemingly inexplicable delays, the regional government has finally begun...
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