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Alpine glaciers are melting faster

Glaciers all over the world have been melting at a faster pace over the last three decades and scientific research is trying to find ways to come the aid of these masses of ice: whether glaciers in Asia or in the European Alps that are currently being studied by Swiss researchers*. They have used climatic models coupled with measures to estimate their evolution according to different warming scenarios.

Worrying scenarios

Projections of future losses of volume (a) and surface area (b) of Alpine glaciers***. 

This study predicts that between 2017 and 2050, about 50% of the volume of glaciers will vanish, independently of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions**. But after 2050, the evolution of the glaciers will depend on how the climate evolves.

  • In the optimistic scenario, involving a limited rise in temperatures (below 2°C by the end of the century), the glaciers would lose about two thirds of their current volume of ice.
  • The pessimistic scenario estimates that if the rise in temperatures continues at its current pace, more than 90% of the Alpine glaciers will melt away from now to 2100.

Reservoirs of freshwater threatened

 The researchers insist on the importance of these reservoirs of freshwater. The 4,000 glaciers of the European Alps contain about 100 km3 of ice and are structural components of the ecosystem, since they are a source of water for the fauna, flora, human populations, agriculture and hydroelectricity. They are also a part of the region’s landscape and economy, since tourism is highly developed in mountain areas. The future of glaciers is undoubtedly threatened, but if we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and limit the rise in temperature, we can still stem future losses.


* Study published in the European journal The Cryosphere.

** Indeed, the time the glaciers take to react to climatic changes is long, and the effects will not be completely apparent until 2050.

***Source: Harry Zekollari, Matthias Huss and Daniel Farinotti: “Modelling the future evolution of glaciers in the European Alps under the EURO-CORDEX RCM ensemble”.

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