SCOTTISH scientists studying a deadly Himalayan avalanche believe satellites could be used to save lives in future.

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen say that remote monitoring of vast areas using satellite images could help predict dangerous avalanches, giving remote mountain communities better warning.

The team at the university’s school of geosciences discovered this “encouraging” finding while studying the satellite imaging of movements from two avalanches, in 2016 and 2021, occurring in the same Himalayan valley.

The latter, more severe avalanche, which travelled 13km, struck last February, causing a flash flood that killed more than 200 people and destroyed key infrastructure in a township of Chamoli, India.

The research indicates that sediment from the 2016 avalanche (below) and other seasonal snow avalanches contributed to the severity in 2021’s incident, which was deduced by using satellite datasets and modelling.

The National:

The team also detected unusual surface movements on the glacier preceding the 2016 avalanche, indicating that satellite data analysis could be used to predict future avalanches.

The scientists say this research is important because it allows large areas to be monitored remotely, as opposed to field-based observations, which are difficult to do due to the risks of operating in remote mountain area.

The team is currently studying other ice avalanches on a global scale with modellers and scientists to expand this research.

Dr Anshuman Bhardwaj and Dr Lydia Sam co-authored this study, which has now been published in the Remote Sensing journal.

Dr Sam said: “With more dedicated research on other similar past disasters, we might see the development of a possible framework to better evaluate the destructive nature of such avalanches.

"This opens the possibility of developing a new monitoring framework that could be very valuable in protecting mountain communities in areas such as the Himalayas or the Andes in South America, which are already facing significant challenges due to climate change.”

Extreme weather brought about by changing air temperature, high windspeeds and snowfall will increase the conditions likely to trigger an avalanche.

A changing climate and a warming of temperatures globally may also cause these avalanches to become more severe, making research like this useful for mitigating disasters.

Dr Bhardwaj added that “these are encouraging results”, saying this research increases understanding of the characteristics and patterns that give early indications of an ice avalanche.

He also said the work shows how additional surface observations can reveal deposited sediment, which the study suggests can make avalanches more severe.

He said: “Such observations are very rare, and it has helped us better understand how one large avalanche event can enhance the magnitude of a repeat event in the same valley.

“These research efforts are being aided by significant developments in the capabilities of remote sensing satellites, as well as the availability of more open access data.”