Global Warming & Climate Change

FEATURED SWITZERLAND: Glaciers in the Alps are on track to record their highest loss of mass in at least 60 years, new data shows.

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#GlobalWarming & #ClimateChange – Loss of tourism fears as European heatwaves cause record melting of glaciers

Two people with backpacks on stand on rocks and look down at the snow on the ground and alps in the background.
The impact of summer heatwaves on glaciers in the Swiss Alps is clear to Glaciologist Andreas Linsbauer and assistant Andrea Millhaeusler who visit every year.  (Reuters: Arnd Wiegmann)none

This follows temperatures peaking at nearly 30 degrees Celsius in the mountain village of Zermatt during an early summer heatwave. 

Data from Glacier Monitoring Switzerland and the Universite libre de Bruxelles shows the Morteratsch glacier in the Swiss Alps is shedding about 5 centimetres a day. 

The glacier — which is largest by area in the Bernina Range of the Bündner Alps — is in a worse state than it would normally be at the end of summer, according to the data. 

Nearby, the Silvretta Glacier has lost about 1 metre more than it had at the same point of summer in 1947, which was the worst year since records started in 1915.

A man is standing on a mountain covered in snow while leaning on a walking pole.
Glaciologist Andreas Linsbauer says it is really obvious this summer is an extreme season. (Reuters: Arnd Wiegmann)none

Swiss glaciologist Andreas Linsbauer visits the Morteratsch glacier for the end of the summer melt season every September. 

This year he has arrived at the 15-square-kilometre amphitheatre of ice two months early to do emergency maintenance work.

“It’s really obvious that this is an extreme season,” Mr Linsbauer said. 

He uses poles to measure how much the glacier has shrunk by looking at the difference between how much snow fell in winter and how much ice melted in the summer.

During this year’s heatwave, the elevation at which water froze was measured at a record high of 5,184 metres. 

A normal summer level is between 3,000 to 3,500 metres.

A woman holds a long rod to the ground while standing on a glacier.
Assistant Andrea Millhaeusler measures the changes on the Pers Glacier.(Reuters: Arnd Wiegmann)none

Glaciers will disappear regardless of climate action, UN says

Glaciers in the European Alps are especially vulnerable to climate change because they are smaller than others and have relatively little ice cover.

Temperatures in the alps are warming at around two times as fast as the global average, at about 0.3C per decade. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the glaciers in the alps are expected to lose more than 80 per cent of their current mass by 2100.

An ice glacier with brown surface visable underneath and alps in the background.
The Pers Glacier is seen near Mount Piz Palue, near the Alpine resort of Pontresina, Switzerland on July 22.(Reuters: Arnd Wiegmann)none

According to a 2019 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), many glaciers will disappear, regardless of whatever emissions action is taken.

This is due to global warming baked in by past emissions. 

The Morteratsch glacier is already different to what is shown on the region’s tourist maps.

Its long tongue once reached deep into the valley below but has now shrunk back by nearly 3km. 

The depth of the snow and ice pack has thinned by up to 200m.

A hiker in the background walks over a glacier. Rocks and ice can be seen in the foreground.
An experts says they are seeing model results now that were not expected for decades. (Reuters: Arnd Wiegmann)none

A parallel glacier called Pers flowed into Morteratsch until 2017, but it has now receded so much that an expanding strip of grit lies between them.

Matthias Huss — who leads Glacier Monitoring Switzerland — said the glaciers may vanish sooner than expected if the weather experienced this year was repeated. 

“We are seeing model results expected a few decades in the future are happening now,” he said.

“I did not expect to see such an extreme year so early in the century.”

A woman poses for a person taking a photo with a Swiss flag with the alps in the background.
There are fears the melting of the glaciers will negatively impact tourism in Switzerland. (Reuters: Arnd Wiegmann)none

Switzerland losing its ‘national heritage’ 

Vanishing glaciers are endangering lives and livelihoods.

On July 3, the collapse of a glacier on the Marmolada in Italy killed 11 people.

Days later, a collapsing glacier in Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia triggered a massive avalanche, which sent ice and rocks hurdling toward passing tourists.

Rocks lay on to op of ice and around a small body of water.
The Pers Glacier near the Alpine resort of Pontresinain is covered in debris. (Reuters: Arnd Wiegmann)none

Above the Swiss village of Saas Fee, a path leading to a mountain hut once passed through a summer snowfield on top of the Chessjen Glacier.

It is now too dangerous due to the risk of falling rocks that were once held together by hard-frozen ice. 

Nearby, the rumble of stones tumbling from the mountain can be heard.

A woman in a blue jacket takes a photo of the Swiss alps with her mobile phone.
Rising temperatures are causing glaciers to be different to how they appear on tourist maps. (Reuters: Arnd Wiegmann)none

Swiss residents worry that the glacier losses will hurt their economy.

The Aletsch Glacier is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Swiss glaciers feature in many of the country’s fairy tales.

At ski resorts that rely on glaciers, ice has been covered with white sheets to reflect sunlight and reduce melting.

Hiker Bernardin Chavaillaz said losing the glaciers “means losing our national heritage, our identity”. 

White blankets sit on sloping areas of land.
Snow on the alps has been covered with white sheets in ski resorts to reflect sunlight and reduce melting.(Reuters: Arnd Wiegmann)none

‘Extensive loss’ expected by end of summer 

Glaciologists in Austria, France and Italy said their countries were also on track for record losses.

“The glaciers are snow-free up to the summits,” Austrian Academy of Sciences glaciologist Andrea Fischer said. 

Seasonal snowfall replenishes the ice lost during summer. It is also key for protecting glaciers from further melt by providing a white cover that reflects sunlight back out to atmosphere better than darker ice sullied by dust or pollution can.

A view from above of ice water flowing through a glacier.
Meltwater flows into an ice crevice at the Pers Glacier near the Alpine resort of Pontresina in Swtzerland. (Reuters: Arnd Wiegmann)none

The Grand Etret glacier in northwest Italy had accumulated 1.3m of snow during the past winter, which is 2m less than the annual average between 2000 and 2020.

This year’s Alpine ice losses, registered even before the biggest melt month of August, surprised scientists to some extent, as many of the glaciers had already lost their lower-lying snouts.

“You can easily imagine the final results after summer will be … extensive loss of glacier coverage in the Italian Alps,” Italian glaciological committee vice president Marco Giardino said. 

A signpost and a hut on the side of a mountain.
The Swiss Alps have been hit by two early summer heatwaves. (Reuters: Emma Farge)none

Temperatures of 48C hamper Himalayan glaciers 

Scientists believe Himalayan glaciers are also on track for a record ice loss this year. 

When the summer monsoon season arrived in the Kashmir region, many glaciers had already shrunk drastically. 

A heatwave between March and May saw temperatures reach about 48C in northern India, which caused snowlines retreat high up the mountain.  

A woman is crouched down at smiling at the camera with the Swiss alps in the background.
Belgian tourist Lisa Neyt next to the Pers Glacier. (Reuters: Arnd Wiegmann)none

Indian Institute of Technology glaciologist Mohd Farooq Azam said an early June expedition in India’s Himachal Pradesh found that the Chhota Shigri Glacier had lost much of its snow cover.

“The highest temperature in over a century in March through May clearly had its impacts,” he said. 


#AceNewsDesk report ………..Published: July.31: 2022: 

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