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Exploring the Himalayas: A Field School ( from 11th to 17th October 2023)

This journey strated by a group of Ph.D. students from the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, and Master’s students from the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Geography, University of Potsdam, along with our esteemed professors, embarked on a 7-day field school from October 11th to 17th, 2023. This adventure was part of the Indian-German project on natural hazards in the Himalayas, generously funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and organized in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee (IITR).

Day 1: Exploring Haridwar and Beyond

Our journey began in the holy city of Haridwar, situated at the foothills of the Siwalik Hills. As we traveled, our expert guides enlightened us about the geological wonders of the region, shaped by the ongoing collision between the Indian and Eurasian plates. We stop briefly at the point where the brownish Alaknanda and the light blue Bhagirathi rivers merge and the Ganges begins (Figure 1). After arriving in Srinagar we go down to Alaknanda. Here we look at the over 500 million year old, heavily deformed rock formations on the shore and enjoy the view . The day ended with this serene view of the Alaknanda River and a captivating lecture on measuring river discharge rates.

Day 2: From Rudraprayag to Badrinath

An early start took us to Rudraprayag, where the Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers converge. Our destination was Badrinath, where we delved into the intricacies of runoff measurement. Dr. Till Francke demonstrated runoff measurement using the dilution method. Using uraninine dye, we first calibrate a so-called dilution coefficient (photo 3) before introducing the dye into the upper reaches. Two fluorescent sensors and a water pressure sensor is installed to continuously record runoff at five-minute intervals over the next day and a half.

A captivating evening lecture by Prof. Saurabh Vijay shed light on the changing dynamics of Himalayan glaciers.

Day 3: Vasudhara Waterfall and Glacial Views

A hearty breakfast fueled our journey to Mana, a small village near Badrinath. We hiked to Vasudhara waterfall, standing at an elevation of 3700 meters (Figure 2). The trek revealed fascinating landscape features, and we learned about the vegetation zonation of the Himalayas. The day concluded with a visit to the revered Badrinath temple and an insightful lecture on glaciers and climate change.

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Figure - 2

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Figure - 3 : Showing destroyed Bridge during Chamoli flood

Day 4: Hydroelectric Insights and Vishnuprayag

We retrieved sensors from the river, conducted discharge measurements, and hiked to the hanging valley in the Badrinath hydroelectric power station. From there we could clearly understand the construction and principle of this system. The abrupt rise from the main valley into the hanging valley, a result of glacial erosion, can be optimally used for small hydroelectric power plants.

The journey continued with a stop at Vishnuprayag, where we learned about the devastating Chamoli flash flood of 2021 (Figure 3) . Lectures on hydropower, energy security, and climate in the Himalayas capped off the day.

Day 5: Lata's Relict Landscape

Our exploration took us to Lata, where a terrain mapping of geomorphologically relevant features. After discussing a few assumptions about the origins of the landscape, it turns out that we are in the middle of a relict, landslide-dammed lake. The day concluded with student-led lectures on natural hazards in the Himalayas.

Day 6: Tapovan Dam and Chamoli Flash Flood Site

Today we crossed the Dhauliganga River and hike up the opposite slope. The only way across is the Tapovan hydroelectric power station dam. Since the power plants are part of the critical infrastructure in India, our Indian colleagues spend the morning obtaining the relevant approval. Meanwhile, we take a hike down to the river, which takes us through an idyllic village and an unexpectedly lush forest. The trees on the bank are 20 meters above the river. In the forks of their branches we find rubble that was thrown up here during the Chamoli flood.

Afterwards we entered the power plant. we were offered a guided tour. Equipped with helmets and safety vests, we enter the dam wall. The power plant was severely damaged during the Chamoli flash flood. Bent steel reinforcements, shattered flood gates and several meter large blocks of rock still lying on top of the dam wall bear witness to the immense power of the tidal wave. 150 people died at this point. The state operators have not been idle and have since installed a state-of-the-art early warning system. We visited the control room on the premises of the “National Thermal Power Corporation” in Joshimat. The level and flow speed are measured at five points upstream and sent here in real time via satellite. This should ensure a warning time of twelve to 40 minutes. In addition, regular test alarms and training sessions for the local population are carried out. On day 7, we headed back to Joshimath to Roorkee. it took around eight hours.

A hike across the Dhauliganga River led us to the Tapovan hydroelectric power station dam, showcasing the aftermath of the Chamoli flash flood. The power plant was severely damaged during the Chamoli flash flood. Bent steel reinforcements, shattered flood gates and several meter large blocks of rock still lying on top of the dam wall bear witness to the immense power of the tidal wave. 150 people died at this point. The state operators have not been idle and have since installed a state-of-the-art early warning system. We visit the control room on the premises of the “National Thermal Power Corporation” in Joshimat. The level and flow speed are measured at five points upstream and sent here in real time via satellite. This should ensure a warning time of twelve to 40 minutes. In addition, regular test alarms and training sessions for the local population are carried out. The visit emphasized the importance of early warning systems. Our day concluded with a journey back to Joshimath. On day 7, we headed back to Joshimath to Roorkee.