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Swiss glaciers melting away at record rate

AFP
AFP - [email protected] • 28 Sep, 2022 Updated Wed 28 Sep 2022 08:55 CEST
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This aerial picture taken on September 13, 2022 at Glacier 3000 resort above Les Diablerets shows the Tsanfleuron pass free of the ice that covered it for at least 2,000 years next to blankets covering snow from the last winter season to prevent it from melting. - The thick layer of ice that has covered a Swiss mountain pass between Scex Rouge glacier and Tsanfleuron glacier since at least the Roman era has melted away completely. Following a dry winter, the summer heatwaves hitting Europe have been catastrophic for the Alpine glaciers, which have been melting at an accelerated rate. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Switzerland's glaciers lost six percent of their total volume this year due to a dry winter and repeated summer heatwaves, shattering previous ice melt records, a report revealed Wednesday.

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The study by the Cryospheric Commission (CC) of the Swiss Academy of Sciences laid bare the drastic scale of glacial retreat -- which is only set
to get worse.

"2022 was a disastrous year for Swiss glaciers: all ice melt records were smashed," the CC said, adding that a two percent loss in 12 months had
previously been considered "extreme".

Three cubic kilometres of ice -- three trillion litres of water -- have melted away, the report said.

"It's not possible to slow down the melting in the short term," said glaciology professor Matthias Huss, head of Glacier Monitoring in Switzerland,
which documents long-term glacier changes in the Alps and is coordinated by the CC.

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If carbon dioxide emissions are reduced and the climate protected, "this might save about one third of the total volumes in Switzerland in the best 
case, he told AFP.

Otherwise, the country "will be losing almost everything by the end of the century.
century".

Saharan dust speeds melt

At the start of the year, the snow cover in the Alps was exceptionally light, then a large volume of sand dust blew in from the Sahara Desert between
March and May, settling on the surface.

The contaminated snow absorbed more heat and melted faster, depriving the glaciers of their protective snow coating by early in the European summer.The continuous heat between May and early September therefore ravaged the glacial ice.

By mid-September, the once-thick layer of ice that covered the pass between the Scex Rouge and Tsanfleuron glaciers had completely melted away, exposing bare rock that had been frozen over since at least the Roman era.

And in early July, the collapse of a section of the Marmolada glacier, the biggest in the Italian Alps, killed 11 people and highlighted how serious the
situation had become..

According to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published in February, the melting of ice and snow is one of the 10 key threats from climate change.

Smallest glaciers hardest hit

"The loss was particularly dramatic for small glaciers," the CC said.

The Pizol, Vadret dal Corvatsch and Schwarzbachfirn glaciers "have practically disappeared -- measurements were discontinued", the commission
said.

In the Engadine and southern Valais regions, both in the south, "a four to six-metre-thick layer of ice at 3,000 metres above sea level vanished," said
the report.

Significant losses were recorded even at the very highest measuring points, including the Jungfraujoch mountain, which peaks at nearly 3,500 metres.

"Observations show that many glacier tongues are disintegrating and patches of rock are rising out of the thin ice in the middle of glaciers. These
processes are further accelerating the decline," said the report.

"The trend also reveals how important glaciers are to the water and energy supply in hot, dry years," the report stressed -- something to consider given that hydroelectricity provides more than 60 percent of Switzerland's total energy production.

The glacial meltwater in July and August alone would have provided enough water this year to completely fill all the reservoirs in the Swiss Alps.

But Huss said that if the country experienced this year's meteorological conditions in 50 years' time, "the impact would be much stronger, because in
50 years, we expect that almost all glaciers are gone and therefore cannot provide water in a hot and dry summer".

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Melt reveals macabre finds

The melting of the glaciers has also had some unexpected consequences.

Hikers are regularly making macabre discoveries as bodies are being freed from the ice they have been encased in for decades or even centuries.

The melting can also be a boon for archaeologists who suddenly have access to objects that are thousands of years old.

Meanwhile, the melting of a glacier between Italy and Switzerland has moved the border that ran along the watershed, forcing lengthy diplomatic
negotiations.

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AFP 2022/09/28 08:55

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