Valais glaciers to largely vanish: cantonal report

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Malcolm Curtis - [email protected]
Valais glaciers to largely vanish: cantonal report
Valais's Aletsch Glacier. Photo: Switzerland Tourism

In less than a century the mountain canton of Valais is expected to lose virtually all of its glaciers, according to a report released on Tuesday.


The swaths of “eternal snow” — including one known internationally for its year-round skiing near Zermatt — currently cover 15 percent of the area of the canton straddling a section of the Swiss Alps.

But by 2100, glaciers in Valais will lose 90 percent of their mass, based on the latest climate forecasts, a report from the canton’s environment department said.

The canton’s 680 glaciers are each forecast to shrink five to 30 metres a year due to global warming, the department said.

Only those located above an altitude of 3,000 metres are expected to remain by the end of the century.

Valais launched steps to conduct more research into its glaciers in 2009.

The results of a study into the volume of snow and ice are expected in 2014.

The canton wants to improve its knowledge of glaciers to adopt responsible mountain stewardship and water management policies.

According to an inventory conducted between 1998 and 2000, 51 glaciers in Valais are liable to pose a danger.

Movements of snow and ice can trigger landslides, avalanches and torrential runoff.

These can threaten the security of residential areas, train lines, roads, communications networks and hydro-electric power installations, the canton said.

In addition, they can cut drinking water supply and provision of water for hydro generating plants.

Charly Wuilloud, the former chief of Valais’s natural dangers department, has just written a book raising the alarm about the situation with co-author Françoise Funk-Salami.

"Adieux glaciers sublimes" (Farewell sublime glaciers) focuses on the latest research, as well as the “ambiguous” relationship Valais residents have toward glaciers.

The authors discuss how a glacier is formed and how it can disappear but they also discuss the economic stakes linked to their melting.


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