Swiss glaciers have melted at a terrifying rate in the last two years, study finds

GENEVA (AP) — A panel from the Swiss Academy of Sciences reports a dramatic acceleration in the melting of glaciers in the Alpine country, which lost 10% of its ice volume in just two years after intense summer heat and low volumes of snow in winter.

Switzerland – home to the largest number of glaciers in Europe – saw 4% of its total glacier volume disappear in 2023, the second largest drop in a single year, following a 6% drop in 2022, the greatest thaw since measurements. has begun, the academy’s cryosphere observation commission said.

Experts at the GLAMOS glacier monitoring center are on the lookout for possible extreme melting this year, amid early warning signs of the country’s 1,400 glaciers, a number that is now dwindling .

“The acceleration is dramatic, with as much ice lost in just two years as between 1960 and 1990,” the academy said. “These two extreme consecutive years led to the collapse of glacial tongues and the disappearance of many smaller glaciers. »

Matthias Huss, ETH glaciologist and head of the Swiss measurement network Glamos, checks the thickness of the Rhône glacier near Goms, Switzerland, in June 2023.

Matthias Huss, director of GLAMOS, who participated in the study, said in an interview that Switzerland has already lost up to 1,000 small glaciers and that “we are now starting to lose larger and more important glaciers.”

“Glaciers are the ambassadors of climate change. They explain very clearly what is happening in nature because they respond very sensitively to warming temperatures,” he said. “The study once again underlines that it is urgent to act now if we want to stabilize (the) climate and if we want to save at least part of the glaciers.”

The team said the “massive ice loss” resulted from a winter with very low volumes of snow – which falls on glaciers and protects them from direct exposure to sunlight – and high summer temperatures.

All of Switzerland – where the Alps cut across most of the south and central part of the country – was affected, and glaciers in southern and eastern regions melted almost as fast as during the record thaw of 2022.

“Melting of several meters was measured in southern Valais and the Engadine valley at a level above 3,200 meters (10,500 feet), an altitude at which glaciers had until recently maintained their balance,” the team said.

The average loss of ice thickness reached 3 meters (10 feet) in places such as the Gries glacier in Valais, the Basòdino glacier in the southern canton or region of Ticino, and the Vadret Pers glacier system in eastern Graubünden. .

The situation in parts of the central Bernese Oberland and Valais was less dramatic, such as the Aletsch glacier in Valais and the Plaine Morte glacier in the canton of Bern, as they benefited from greater snowfall in winter. But even in such areas, “a loss of more than 2 meters in average ice thickness is extremely high,” the team said.

Snow depths measured during the first half of February were generally higher than in the winters of 1964, 1990 or 2007, which were also characterized by low snowfall, the team said. But snow levels hit a new record in the second half of February, reaching only about 30% of the long-term average.

More than half of the automated monitoring stations above 2,000 meters, in place for at least a quarter of a century, recorded record snow levels at the time.

After that, an extremely warm June caused snow to melt two to four weeks earlier than usual, and midsummer snowfall melted very quickly, the team said.

Swiss meteorologists reported in August that the level of zero degrees Celsius – the altitude at which water freezes – had reached its highest level ever recorded, at almost 5,300 meters (17,400 feet), meaning that all Swiss Alpine peaks were facing temperatures above zero.


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