As temperatures in the Alps are warming around twice as fast as the global average at around 0.3C per decade, the Alps’ glaciers are on track for their highest mass losses in at least 60 years of record keeping, data shows.
The Alps have sweltered through two big early summer heatwaves since last winter, which brought relatively little snowfall, including July heatwave marked by temperatures near 30 C in the Swiss mountain village of Zermatt during which the elevation at which water froze was measured at a record high of 5,184 meters compared with the normal summer level of between 3,000-3,500 meters.
Scientists can measure how much a glacier has shrunk in any given year by looking at the difference in how much snow fell in winter and how much ice melts in the summer.
Swiss glaciologist Andreas Linsbauer who normally charts the decline of Switzerland’s glaciers in late September, the end of the summer melt season in the Alps, due to the obvious extreme season this year he heads down to the massive Morteratsch Glacier two months early for emergency maintenance work.
Remnants of the last ice age, most of the world’s mountain glaciers are retreating due to climate change but the Alps’ glaciers are especially vulnerable since they are smaller with relatively thin ice cover.
According to a 2019 report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, many Alps glaciers will disappear thanks to global warming baked in by past emissions, but they’re expected to lose more than 80% of their current mass by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
Matthias Huss, who leads Glacier Monitoring Switzerland (GLAMOS), fears that the Alps’ glaciers might vanish sooner than expected with more years like 2022.
The dire situation with the Alpine ice losses even before the biggest melt month of August this year raises concern but is also endangering lives and livelihoods.
Swiss residents are worried that the glacier losses will hurt their economy since some ski resorts rely on these glaciers and with the Aletsch Glacier being considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, losing it means losing their national heritage, says hiker Bernardin Chavaillaz.
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