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WEATHER

Climate change: Glacial melt in Switzerland has created 1,000 new lakes

Climate change has dramatically altered the Swiss Alp landscape -- at a quicker pace than expected -- as melting glaciers have created more than 1,000 new lakes across in the mountains, a study published Monday showed.

Climate change: Glacial melt in Switzerland has created 1,000 new lakes
The Jungfrau Aletsch Glacier. By Robert J Heath - Switzerland, Bettmeralp, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98224624

The inventory of Swiss Glacial lakes showed that almost 1,200 new lakes have formed in formerly glaciated regions of the Swiss Alps since the end of the Little Ice Age around 1850. Around 1,000 of them still exist today, according to the study published by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag).

That is far more than the few hundreds the researchers had expected to find at the beginning of the project.

“We were surprised by the sheer numbers,” Daniel Odermatt, head of the Eawag Remote Sensing Group that carried out the study, said in a statement.

He said the “marked acceleration in formation” was also surprising, pointing out that “180 have been added in the last decade alone”.

Glaciers in the Swiss Alps are in steady decline, losing a full two percent of their volume last year alone, according to an annual study published by the Swiss Academies of Science.

READ MORE: Swiss hold high-altitude ‘funeral march’ for lost glacier

And even if the world were to fully implement the 2015 Paris Agreement — which calls for capping global warming at at least two degrees Celsius — two-thirds of the Alpine glaciers will likely be lost, according to a 2019 study by the ETH technical university in Zurich.

The Eawag assessment showed that there was an initial peak in glacial lake formation in the Swiss Alps between 1946 and 1973, when nearly eight new lakes appeared on average each year.

After a brief decline, the lake formation rate surged between 2006 and 2016, with 18 new lakes appearing each year on average, while the water surface swelled by over 400 square metres (4,300 square feet) annually.

This, Eawag said, is “visible evidence of climate change in the Alps”.

The comprehensive inventory was made possible by large troves of data gathered from the Switzerland’s glaciers since the mid-19th century.

In total, the researchers were able to draw on data from seven periods between 1850 and 2016.

For each of the 1,200 lakes formed since 1850, the scientists recorded the location, elevation, shape and area of the lake at the different times, as well as the type of material of the dam and surface drainage.

Based on such basic information, researchers can estimate hazards, including the risk of a sudden emptying in the event of a dam failure.

Eawag warned that the growing number of glacial lakes increases the risk of such outbursts and thus the danger of flood waves for the settlements below.

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WEATHER

Climate crisis: Swiss lakes at lowest-ever August levels

Some of Switzerland's best-known lakes are at their lowest level ever for August after a dry year so far in 2022, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.

Climate crisis: Swiss lakes at lowest-ever August levels

Some of Switzerland’s best-known lakes are at their lowest level ever for August after a dry year so far in 2022, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.

At the same time, discharge levels on the Rhine, one of Europe’s major rivers which starts in the Swiss Alps, have never been so low in August since records began.

“There is a low water situation in Switzerland, especially on the central plateau and in the southern part of Ticino,” the country’s southernmost canton, said Michele Oberhansli, from the Federal Office for the Environment’s hydrology division.

READ ALSO: Water flown in by helicopter: How Switzerland has been hit by drought

“The reason for the existing situation is a precipitation deficit in the whole year of 2022, which affects the whole of Switzerland, as well as many other European countries,” she told AFP.

Soil moisture is down across the country and drought is affecting forests and agriculture, she said.

Lakes Constance, Lucerne, Lugano and Walen “are currently recording water levels that have never been so low in an August month since measurements began”, said Oberhansli.

Meanwhile Lakes Zug and Maggiore “continue to show values well below average”.

The shores of Lake Maggiore mark the lowest point in Switzerland, normally at 193 metres above sea level.

READ ALSO: MAP: The Swiss regions in danger of wildfires and the measures in place to avoid them

Except the lakes in the Jura region in the northwest and Lake Thun, the levels of all the other larger Swiss lakes are also below the long-term average.

Rivers down, glaciers melting

Meanwhile many Swiss rivers are recording readings that only occur once every two to 20 years.

“Discharge values on the Reuss and Rhine have never been so low since measurements began in August,” said Oberhansli.

The hydrologist said rain over the coming days should “slightly alleviate” the low water and drought levels, but would “not yet be sufficient to ease the overall situation”.

Following a dry winter, the summer heatwaves hitting Europe have been catastrophic for Switzerland’s Alpine glaciers, which have been melting at an accelerated rate.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: Runners take on Swiss glacier race despite melt

A layer of ice — 15 metres thick in 2012 — has covered the Tsanfleuron Pass between two glaciers since at least the Roman era.

But most of it has gone and the ice on the pass will have melted away completely by the end of September, a ski resort said last week.

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