Swiss Glaciers Lose 10% of Their Volume in Two Years

Swiss Glaciers having a very low amounts of snow due to global warming
The Swiss Glaciers, where record warmth is causing glaciers to melt. Credit: Robert J Heath / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Swiss glaciers have diminished in size by a significant ten percent over a mere span of two years. This startling revelation is attributed to climate change.

As a result, earth is experiencing hot summers and winters characterized by alarmingly reduced snowfall, which, in turn, has accelerated the melting of Swiss glaciers.

Remarkably, the volume of glacier loss witnessed during the scorching summers of 2022 and 2023 matches the entire volume lost between 1960 and 1990. This underscores the gravity of the situation and clarifies the rapidity with which these natural wonders are vanishing.

Swiss glaciers’ staggering reduction of total glacier volume

A comprehensive analysis conducted by the Swiss Academy of Sciences further highlights the severity of the issue, reporting a staggering four percent reduction in the volume of Swiss glaciers this year. This marks the second-largest annual decline ever recorded, second only to the six percent loss observed in 2022, which was the most significant thaw since scientific measurements commenced.

The implications of these findings are both alarming and indicative of the urgent need for collective action to address the escalating impact of climate change on our environment.

Monitoring of Swiss glaciers ceases

In a stark reflection of the profound changes occurring in our environment, experts have made the decision to discontinue the measurement of ice on certain glaciers, as there is now scarcely any ice remaining.

Glacier Monitoring in Switzerland (Glamos), an initiative responsible for overseeing 176 glaciers, has recently halted its measurements at the Saint Annafirn glacier in the Central Swiss canton of Uri. This decision was prompted by the disheartening fact that the particular glacier has almost entirely experienced a meltdown.

This Thursday the results of our measurements of ice melting on Swiss #glaciers will be published via @scnatCH.
Only so much for the moment: 2023 was a very bad year – again

— GLAMOS (@glamos_ch) September 25, 2023

Matthias Huss, who leads Glacier Monitoring Switzerland (GLAMOS), has expressed his concerns: “We just had some dead ice left. It’s a combination of climate change that makes such extreme events more likely, and the very bad combination of meteorological extremes. If we continue at this rate…we will see every year such bad years.”

He further explained that the smaller Swiss glaciers are particularly vulnerable to this rapid ice loss. To safeguard Switzerland’s remaining ice, he emphasized the urgent need to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

However, even if the world succeeds in limiting global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, Huss cautioned that only about a third of the volume of Swiss glaciers is projected to endure.

Consequently, Huss foresees a future where “all the small glaciers will be gone anyway, and the big glaciers will be much smaller.” Nevertheless, he emphasized the importance of preserving some ice in the highest Alpine regions and maintaining a few glaciers that we can proudly share with future generations.

Unprecedented climate changes

The Swiss Alps were confronted with an unprecedented bout of warmth this year. In August, which is typically the month of peak melting, the Swiss weather service recorded a new record for the altitude at which precipitation freezes.

It soared to an astonishing 5,289 meters (about 17,350 feet), surpassing the previous year’s record of 5,184 meters. To put this in perspective, it’s even higher than the famed Mont Blanc.

The consequences of such remarkable warmth include the alteration of the mountain landscape. Matthias Huss has observed previously undocumented phenomena, including the formation of new lakes adjacent to glacier tongues.

Additionally, areas of bare rock are emerging as the ice of Swiss glaciers thins out. Perhaps most intriguingly, as the ice sheets retreat, long-lost remains have resurfaced.

It is worth noting that Swiss records primarily span back to 1960 with some glacier data extending as far back as 1914. These records provide valuable insights into the profound changes unfolding in the Swiss Alps due to climate-induced alterations.

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