In the last twenty years, the glaciers of the Alps have lost more than one sixth of their volume. These are the findings of a study conducted in June 2020. For the first time, it was possible to examine the entire Alpine region and not just individual glaciers and regions(Vom Sterben der Gletscher | WWF Schweiz, o. J.). In total, the glaciers of the Alps lost 22 cubic kilometers of ice between 2000 and 2014. This amounts to an ice cover decline of more than half a meter over the entire area of Switzerland (Vom Sterben der Gletscher | WWF Schweiz, o. J.).
The Swiss National Centre for Climate Services (NCCS) writes that the glacier scenarios show that a large percentage of the ice fields in the Alps will have disappeared by the end of the century. With climate change legislation, around 37% of the 2017 glacier volume will remain, but only around 5% without climate change legislation.
The summer runoff of the glaciers will be greatly reduced(NCCS, o. J.) and it is determined that heat surges accelerate the speed of the melt very strongly in addition to the steady decline(Thibert et al., 2018).
The melting of glaciers has a whole host of local and global consequences. Only a couple of those consequences are listed below(Smid, 2014):
- The meltwater forms huge lakes, water flows down to the valley and there are more frequent floods.
- The melted glaciers expose rock faces and debris areas. This leads to dangerous rockfalls.
- The drinking water supply is in danger. Glaciers are important water reservoirs.
- Sea levels are rising. The United Nations climate panel predicts a rise in global sea levels of up to one meter for this century. Of this, 20 centimeters alone will be due to glacial melt.
- Wildlife which has adapted to the frosty environment is threatened with the loss of their habitat.
Possible Counter Actions
Many solutions are being discussed in Switzerland and some have already been implemented. One idea is to artificially snow the glaciers and thus build a protective layer of snow. Critics say that this is not sustainable in terms of energy, as the area to be covered is huge. (SRF, 2019)
Another idea is to reduce the carbon particles on the glaciers. Burning diesel and fossil fuels create carbon particles that darken the glacier. The darker surface cannot reflect the sun as well and so the glacier heats up more, leading to faster melting(SRF, 2019).
One measure that is already being implemented is to cover the glaciers. On the Rhone glacier, the ice has been covered with white fleece for years to protect it from the sun. But this measure is only a drop in the ocean: every year more blankets are needed, and by now they already cover an area as large as several football fields(SRF, 2019).
It has even been found that there is a possibility of building a wall around Antarctica. This can keep warm ocean currents out and protect the floating ice shelves from melting(Wolovick & Moore, 2018).
These are all very innovative ideas. And it seems we are dependent on them. Because it looks like the climate targets that have been set will not be met and the measures that are being taken on an international level will not be implemented quickly and efficiently enough.
As someone who grew up near the Alps, for me, the consequences of global warming are best seen in the glaciers. It is shocking to see meters of ice disappearing year after year. Sometimes I feel helpless, and I am glad that there are families like the Carlens, who fight actively for our glaciers and raise awareness(SRF, 2019). Initiatives and research that lead to the delay of melting or even the rebuilding of glaciers must be supported at the political and scientific levels.
NCCS, N. C. for C. S. (o. J.). Snow and glaciers. Abgerufen 6. Juni 2022, von https://www.nccs.admin.ch/nccs/en/home/sektoren/wasserwirtschaft/auswirkungen-auf-den-wasserhaushalt/schneeundgletscher.html
Smid, K. (2014, Juli 4). Gletscherschmelze | Greenpeace. https://www.greenpeace.de/klimaschutz/klimakrise/gletscherschmelze
SRF. (2019, Juli 1). Kampf gegen Eisschmelze—So wollen Forscher die Gletscher retten. Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF). https://www.srf.ch/news/international/kampf-gegen-eisschmelze-so-wollen-forscher-die-gletscher-retten
Thibert, E., Dkengne Sielenou, P., Vionnet, V., Eckert, N., & Vincent, C. (2018). Causes of Glacier Melt Extremes in the Alps Since 1949. Geophysical Research Letters, 45(2), 817–825. https://doi.org/10.1002/2017GL076333
Vom Sterben der Gletscher | WWF Schweiz. (o. J.). Abgerufen 6. Juni 2022, von https://www.wwf.ch/de/stories/vom-sterben-der-gletscher
Wolovick, M. J., & Moore, J. C. (2018). Stopping the flood: Could we use targeted geoengineering to mitigate sea level rise? The Cryosphere, 12(9), 2955–2967. https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-12-2955-2018