“We can’t prevent floods, earthquakes, landslides. They will happen anyway, but we shouldn’t stand in their way, we should have monitoring systems. When you know it’s a susceptible territory, when you know it has happened before, why are you building there? Why do you have people there? In 2017, 2018, 2019, we had consecutive glacial floods in Svaneti. It didn’t have this scale, it didn’t take lives, we got lucky then. Today it was Buba, tomorrow it may be Chalaati, or Kharikhra next year. The entire Caucasus is vulnerable. We need early warning systems,” says Professor Tea Godoladze, Director of the Institute of Earth Sciences and National Seismic Monitoring Centre.
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- Tea, what caused these events in Shovi, what are we dealing with? What dangers can lie ahead and what could we have done/can we do for prevention?
- We, the scientific community, are in agreement that it was a glacial flood. Under the conditions of global warming, this process started with the melting of the glacier, and eventually the landslide was triggered. The water below, in the river valley, brought these moraine masses, everything – soil, rocks, trees, etc. Together with the water, it formed into a torrent.
The country should have monitoring systems. We are talking about a glacial landslide – in 2017, the Chalaati glacier incident occurred, in 2018, the Okrila incident again in Svaneti, and in 2019, Chalaati once again.
Glacier monitoring is a worldwide practice. One of the components is the installation of seismic, satellite-based, LIDAR imaging and geophysical observation instruments. This is a monitoring complex. In such a case, it would warn us that the situation on the glacier is turning dangerous.
Any glacial river can pose a threat. I say once again, we are in the midst of climate change, that's why, comprehensive monitoring should be established throughout the Caucasus.
There are worldwide systems, international societies, and international university consortia working on this. Private companies are being hired for this. We installed a monitoring system on Devdoraki (Kazbegi) for half a million, and is it working?
- Is it working?
- I don’t know. Is anyone using or processing that data now? It’s interesting what data we gathered. In case of Tbilisi, an advance early warning system has been installed in Vere. In other words, we actually have the practice of setting up such a system and financing it. But it needs constant storage, maintenance, and upkeep. All data must be stored online. If we take the seismic network, for example, this whole system, the different stations, is in the data center and I can look at what's going on. The fact that you receive information on an earthquake instantly is precisely because the system is up and running, and we are now updating it further with the support of the US.
- Should there have been an early warning system in the vicinity of Chanchakhi River, a.k.a. Babua’s Valley?
- It should have been installed for landslides and mudslides, because Georgia is prone to these. The money was allocated by the donors, and within these funds, identification, scientific research, and then the installation and maintenance of the monitoring system had to be carried out. This project has been going on for the fifth year, as far as I know, and I don’t know where we are at this point.
- If we did have an early warning system in Buba Valley, Buba River, glacier monitoring, what would have changed, what could we avoid?
- We would avoid what happened – the loss of people’s lives, most likely. We had a chance to avoid all this.
Of course, if there are working early warning systems and specialists in place, this is important. It pains me to say this, but this is a technically manageable system, which is not managed by a single specialist, but by a seismologist, an engineer, a programmer, and a geologist. This is scientific research, complex, it is not a government project, the government should not be doing this; it should be done by universities, scientists, and students.
- But doesn't that need financing?
- The United Nations Development Program paid 70 million for this. Source the projects, they are there. We should have a 20-million-dollar Rion river advance meteorological warning system, do we?
- Tea, what would the advance warning system have changed in terms of time. In its initial assessment, the National Environmental Agency says that the flood reached the cottages in 8-10 minutes.
- When you have an early warning system, online data comes from these tools, which the program automatically processes and, in case of deviation from the norm, gives out a signal. It's 24-hour monitoring, and an observing expert can decide whether to raise an alarm or not.
This time it happened on Buba, and that's why you are focused on the Tbilisa glacier. Glacier monitoring should be conducted holistically. Today it's buba, tomorrow it can be Chalaati, or Kharikhra next year. The entire Caucasus is vulnerable. The Caucasus need to be monitored. One station will not save us, we need several. Various geophysical monitoring, LIDAR, satellite imagery, geophysical instruments, ground radars, and lots of other things.
In 2017, 2018, 2019, we had consecutive glacial floods in Svaneti. It didn’t have this scale, it didn’t take lives, we got lucky then.
- In face of climate change, are all the valleys that have glaciers under threat?
- Of course. All glacial rivers are dangerous. These are forces beyond human control, but we can monitor them. When this mass comes, the mass of water, mixed with moraine, soil, rocks, trees, develops such speeds, what can we do with it, we can't do anything. Therefore,
When you know it’s a susceptible territory, when you know it has happened before, why are you building there? Why do you have people there?
Tomorrow in can be Chanchakhi. This is the main thing. Infrastructural policy is to be conducted, and this infrastructural policy is neither for you nor for a lawyer to decide, it is not for anyone to decide. It is a matter for the professionals.
- If we had an early warning system and a specialist received this data online, he would have raised an alarm, 2-3 minutes would have been enough to escape from cottages to a safer place, the forest, elevation, wherever the landslide couldn’t reach.
- In such a case, when you know that the Buba glacier, Tbilisa, Chanchakhi, may one day melt and trigger a landslide, what do we do, these plans need to be developed. This is a disaster risk management scenario. This country needs this. If it comes down and we have no idea how much time we have, what do we do? This is quantifiable.
- Do we have those calculations?
- We don’t
- Just in Racha or nowhere?
- Nowhere. When we calculated hydraulic modeling on Vere once and we were laughed at. We can't prevent floods, earthquakes, landslides, they will happen anyway, but we shouldn't stand in their way, we can at least do that. Otherwise, no one is asking Kaladze, or any politician, to stop the mountain. They don't understand the matter. I apologize, but you don't, people, that's what scientists are for.