Swiss glaciers have melted as much in the last two years as between 1960 and 1990 Swiss glaciers have melted as much in the last two years as between 1960 and 1990, under the effect of extreme weather conditions aggravated by climate change, reveals a study published on Thursday.
The little snow in winter and the very high temperatures in summer will cost 10% of their volume to these endangered masterpieces of nature between 2022 and 2023, says the group of experts in charge of studying the cryosphere within the Swiss Academy of Natural Sciences.
Their conclusion is clear: “Swiss glaciers are melting faster and faster.”
The extreme years follow one another and are similar: after losing 6% of volume in 2022, a record year, Swiss glaciers have melted another 4% this year. This is the second largest drop since measurements began.
“It is a combination of the very bad succession of extreme weather events and climate change” that makes these extremes more likely, explains to AFP Matthias Huss, director of the Swiss network for glaciological studies (Glamos).
“If we continue at the pace we have experienced in recent years – everything is going even faster – every year will be a bad year,” he emphasizes.
“And we have seen such strong changes in the climate in recent years that it is perfectly possible to imagine this country without glaciers,” acknowledges the scientist, who nevertheless emphasizes that decisive action is recommended to “stabilize the climate” by reducing emissions to zero. of CO2. As quickly as possible, it could preserve “a third of the ice formed in Switzerland.”
This means “that all the small glaciers will disappear and the big ones will be much smaller, but there will still be some ice in the highest regions of the Alps and some glaciers that we can show to our grandchildren,” Huss hopes. .
The melting affected the entire Alpine country, considered Europe’s water reservoir thanks to its 1,400 glaciers that feed countless lakes, rivers and streams.
In the south and east of Switzerland, glaciers have melted almost as much as in the record year 2022. Thus, in the southern Valais (south) and in Engadine (east) an ice melt of several meters to more was measured. of 3,200 meters, while a few years ago the glaciers were still in equilibrium at this altitude.
The high temperatures this summer in Switzerland have taken the limit – or isotherm – of zero degrees to historical maximums, at 5,298 m, a level higher than the highest point in the country, Pointe Dufour (4,636 m).
During the winter of 2022/2023, very little snow had already fallen on both sides of the Alps and it was very hot. Therefore, in all seasons there was much less snow than usual.
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Above 1,000 meters above sea level, during the first half of February, measured snow layers were generally slightly higher than during the snowless winters of 1964, 1990 or 2007. But melting reached new records during the second half of February, and snow depth was only about 30% of the multi-year average.
Also above 2,000 meters, more than half of the automatic stations with measurement series of at least 25 years presented new minimum records.
The dry and very hot month of June caused the snow cover to melt between 2 and 4 weeks earlier than usual.
Conditions that prevented the regeneration of glaciers.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published last year, melting ice and snow is one of the top 10 threats caused by global warming.
According to another study, published in January in the journal Science, half of the Earth’s glaciers are doomed to disappear before the end of the century if the increase in temperatures is limited to 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial period. most ambitious goal of the Paris climate agreement.