The Devdoraki Glacier Catastrophes, Georgian Caucasus

  • Levan G. Tielidze Department of Geomorphology, Vakhushti Bagrationi Institute of Geography, Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Georgia ; School of Geography Environment and Earth Sciences, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
  • Roman M. Kumladze Laboratory of GIS and Cartography, Vakhushti Bagrationi Institute of Geography, Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Georgia
  • Roger D. Wheate Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, University of Northern British Columbia, Canada
  • Mamia Gamkrelidze Geological Mapping Division, Department of Geology, National Environmental Agency, Ministry of Environment Protection and Agriculture of Georgia, Georgia
Keywords: glacial hazard, rock-ice avalanche, debris flow, Devdoraki Glacier, surging glacier, Greater Caucasus


This study analyses the Devdoraki Glacier surge type catastrophes since 1776, lead to human casualties, destruction of settlements and the international road in the Georgian Caucasus. According to archival data, at least six ice and ice-rock avalanches fell from the Devdoraki Glacier onto the Tergi (Terek) River valley during the period 1776–1876, the largest on June 18, 1776 and on August 13, 1832. The first blocked the Tergi River for three days and was breached catastrophically; the second was ~100 m high and ~2 km wide and its breach started after 8 hours. The most recent hazard occurred on May 17, 2014 killing nine people, and destroyed the Trans-Caucasus gas pipeline, Dariali Hydropower Plant (HPP) and international road. Using aerial and satellite imagery – Landsat, ASTER, SENTINEL along with the 30 m resolution Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer Global Digital Elevation Model (ASTER GDEM; 17 November 2011) we have reconstructed this event. On the basis of subsequent detailed field observations, new geological and tectonic maps of the study region have been compiled. After that collapse we have registered ~180 m advance of the Devdoraki Glacier snout between 2014 and 2015, which was mostly caused by rock-ice avalanche deposits. This part of the glacier should be monitored continuously as it can raise debris flow activity in the future. We consider the main hypotheses behind these events, namely a) tectonic and seismic, b) permafrost, c) volcanic and d) morphological factors; interpret the data for mechanisms and velocities of the catastrophic movement and argue that the 2014 event should not be classified as a glacier surge, although the possibility of similar glacial surges can not be excluded. The Kazbegi-Jimara massif should be considered as a natural laboratory that enables the investigation of rock-ice avalanches and glacial mudflows.


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How to Cite
TielidzeL. G., KumladzeR. M., WheateR. D., & GamkrelidzeM. (2019). The Devdoraki Glacier Catastrophes, Georgian Caucasus. Hungarian Geographical Bulletin, 68(1), 21-35.