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CLIMATE CRISIS

Why Switzerland’s glaciers are melting faster than usual this summer

Switzerland’s glaciers have been shrinking as a result of climate change, but they are now receding faster than before. These are three reasons why this is happening.

Why Switzerland's glaciers are melting faster than usual this summer
Glaciers are melting faster this year. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Glaciers in the Swiss Alps are in steady decline, losing  2 percent of their volume last year alone, according to a study published by the Swiss Academies of Science.

While Alpine glaciers have been melting for decades — mostly due to global warming, scientists say — this phenomenon has intensified in the past several months.

Three factors have contributed to this erosion, according to Matthias Huss, according to glaciologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich:

First heat wave of the year already in May

The early heat wave and the warmest May in many decades has impacted a number of Alpine regions, including the Jungfraujoch and Aletsch glaciers.

Temps exceeded above 0 degrees, reinforcing the melting process of the glaciers.

READ MORE: Switzerland’s May temperatures ‘highest in 150 years’

Sahara dust

A cloud of fine sand from Morocco and Algeria that  covered parts of  Switzerland in March and April was not good for the glaciers.

 “The remarkably strong Sahara dust reinforced the melting of glaciers in the short and longer term,” Huss said.

READ MORE: Dust from the Sahara Desert covers parts of Switzerland

Little snow and lots of sun in winter

The effect of Sahara dust was reinforced by the fact that the winter of 2021/2022 was particularly sunny and snowfall was scarce.

This means “the glaciers somehow ran out of ‘food’ in the form of snow. In addition, the melting started very early this spring”, he noted.

Melting ice has formed 1,200 new lakes in formerly glaciated regions of the Swiss Alps since the middle of the 19th century. Around 1,000 of them still exist today, according to the study published by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag).

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

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Climate change transforming Switzerland ‘into Tuscany’, scientists warn

Rising temperatures in Switzerland caused by climate change are gradually transforming the famous Alpine scenery so it looks more like the dryer region of Tuscany, an environmental group has warned.

Climate change transforming Switzerland 'into Tuscany', scientists warn

Global warming is leading to a “tuscanisation” of Switzerland’s landscape, the Swiss Foundation for the Protection and Management of Landscape (Sl-Fp) warned on Monday.

And the transformation could have major consequences on the country’s tourism industry.

The increasing number of heatwaves and dry periods over the past twenty years in Switzerland have already had a big impact on the landscape.

On Monday the foundation warned that as these episodes increase, the colour of the Swiss landscape will visibly change due to the reduction in the amount of water feeding the landscapes.

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland’s glaciers are melting faster than usual this summer

It warned that “the romantic ideal of a ‘green’ and water-rich Switzerland seems to be undergoing a lasting transformation”.

They dominant colour of green will be replaced by lighter shades of yellow and brown that are reminiscent of the dry landscapes of the Tuscan valleys, the foundation wrote in a press release.

It also warned that at higher levels the retreat of glaciers and drop in the volume of water means the moraines high up in the mountains will vegetate at a much slower rate, meaning the Swiss mountains will be less green.

Natural streams and waterfalls are also drying up, a situation seen in Italy, in the Piedmontese and Ligurian Alps, notes the foundation.

READ ALSO: ‘An impossible dream’: Will we come to dread Swiss summer in future?

According to the foundation, increasing water loss and warmer temperatures have an impact on biodiversity and reduce landscape variety.

The changing landscape will also reduces the recreational value of the mountains and therefore hit the tourism industry hard, it warned.

A 2014 report by scientists that looked at the tangible ways the climate crisis will change Switzerland said that whilst melting glaciers was the most talked about change there are other ways the country will be affected.

“Agriculture will face increased heat stress for livestock, and tree species distribution will change. The tourist industry will have to cope with shorter ski seasons  and the urban population will be exposed to more heat days,” the report said.

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