How to Prevent Glacial Lakes From Flooding Mountain Communities

Mountain geographer Alton Byers is helping remote Himalayan villages prepare for climate change.

As temperatures rise around the globe, glaciers are shrinking at an unprecedented rate. The resulting glacial meltwater can form dangerous lakes contained only by unstable rock and debris. These can burst from their basins at any moment, flooding communities and potentially killing thousands. 

Equipped with mountaineering gear and a Ph.D. in geography, Alton Byers, the director of science and exploration at the nonprofit Mountain Institute in Washington, D.C., has spent his career traversing treacherous high-altitude ridges and navigating alpine wilderness to prepare remote Himalayan villages for climate change. 

His latest project — the High Mountain Glacial Watershed Program — blends the best of modern technology with on-the-ground observation to mitigate the coming challenges associated with glacial lake outbursts. 

He tells his story to DISCOVER Senior Editor Tasha Eichenseher.