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C442: Hydroclimatic risk assessment for Bhutan (Lead Supervisor: Ulf Büntgen, Geography)

Supervisors: Ulf Büntgen (Geography) and Paul Krusic (Geography

Importance of the area of research:

The impact of climate change on environments and societies in the Himalaya represents a rapidly growing problem that needs to be tackled by integrated research approaches, cross-cutting the disciplines of environmental and social sciences. Changing hydrology and the increase in flood risk represent arguably the most dramatic impacts of climate change on the environment and society of Bhutan. Changing temperature and precipitation patterns combined with increasing glacial melt water due to warming can trigger floods, including Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) of devastating power, such as the GLOF in 1994 (Richardson, and Reynolds. 2000). Prediction of future changes in temperature and glacier melt is problematic because the spatial and temporal context of the ongoing changes are very limited. Current mitigation strategies (e.g. lowering glacier lake levels) have thus far met with limited success. These are growing problems throughout the entire Himalaya.

Project summary:

This project will, for the first time, will combine dendrochronological and remote sensing techniques to reconstruct extreme-flow events of select, high-elevation, river tributaries in Bhutan. Recent GLOF events will be further linked, temporally and spatially, to extant remote sensed glacier measurements, and updated dendrochronologically produced temperature reconstructions (Krusic et al. 2015, Cook et al. 2012) in order to provide a current and long-term context of past changes Himalayan streamflow hydrology. Thus, progress made with this project in Bhutan could be immediately up-scaled to an entire region.

What the student will do:

1.The goals of this project are as follows: (i) produce a collection of high resolution, tree-ring temperature reconstructions from the upper Punakha, and Thimphu valleys in Bhutan; ii) from two high elevation tributaries in these two valleys produce streamflow reconstructions using flood-scarred trees on the banks of the drainages (Boucher et al. 2011) (iii) produce a spatial time-series of glacier fluctuations from high-resolution remote-sensed imagery; (iv) compare modern flood scar chronology with changes in glacier dimensions; (v) assess the temporal distribution current flood scaring with past scarring; addressing the question whether the current GLOF hazard is ‘new' and man-made, or rather a naturally reoccurring phenomenon. This will feed in directly to the IPCC Central Asia Threats section; (vi) evaluate the current glacier dynamics in conjunction with the high-resolution temperature reconstruction in part i to identify drivers of Bhutan's glacier-stream dynamics.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Richardson, S.D., and J.M. Reynolds, (2000). An overview of glacial hazards in the Himalayas.  Quaternary International  65 (66): 31-47.

Krusic, P.J., E. R. Cook, D. Dukpa, S. Rupper, A. Putnam, J. Schaefer (2105). 635 years of summer temperature variability over the Bhutanese Himalaya. GRL

Cook, E.R., P.J. Krusic, K.J. Anchukaitis, B.M. Buckley, T. Nakatsuka, M. Sano and the PAGES Asia 2k members, (2012). Tree-ring reconstructed summer temperature anomalies for temperate East Asia since 800 C.E., Climate Dynamics

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project.

Other projects available from the Lead Supervisor can be viewed here.

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