Photo Friday: A Funeral Procession for Switzerland’s Pizol Glacier

About 250 people held on September 22 a funeral for the Pizol Glacier, which the Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network declassified as a glacier due to the amount of melting that has occurred. 

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology glaciologist Matthias Huss, who attended the funeral, said the glacier has lost as much as 90 percent of its volume since 2006.

Attendees on the hike 
Source: Michael Schoch
Source: Michael Schoch

The ceremony comes one month after a similar funeral was held in Iceland for the Okjökull Glacier, the first of the nation’s glaciers to succumb to climate change. 

Pizol is not the first Swiss glacier to melt under the rising temperatures brought about by the climate crisis. Huss estimates that over 500 Swiss glaciers have disappeared entirely since 1850. 

And Pizol won’t be the last. 

“The Pizol Glacier is not the only one to be affected: Countless small Alpine glaciers will suffer the same fate in the decades to come,” Huss said in a press release. 

A speaker at the ceremony, the remnants of the glacier can be seen in the background.
 Source: Michael Schoch
Another speaker at the ceremony. 
 Source: Michael Schoch

The event was organized by Action de Carême, Pain pour le Prochain, l’Initiative des Alpes, Greenpeace, Oeku Eglise et Environnement and the Swiss Association for Climate Protection.

Read more on GlacierHub: 

‘Landscapes Need a Voice’: GlacierHub Speaks With Photographer Fiona Bunn

Photo Friday: Countdown to the Release of the IPCC’s Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere

New Research Reveals How Megafloods Shaped Greenland And Iceland

Roundup: Switzerland’s Aletsch Glacier, Olafur Eliasson, and Early Alpine Dwellers

Dire projections for Switzerland’s Great Aletsch Glacier

From the Journal of Glaciology:

“We model the future evolution of the largest glacier of the European Alps – Great Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland – during the 21st century. For that purpose we use a detailed three-dimensional model, which combines full Stokes ice dynamics and surface mass balance forced with the most recent climate projections (CH2018), as well as with climate data of the last decades. As a result, all CH2018 climate scenarios yield a major glacier retreat: Results range from a loss of 60% of today’s ice volume by 2100 for a moderate CO2 emission scenario (RCP2.6) being in line with the Paris agreement to an almost complete wastage of the ice for the most extreme emission scenario (RCP8.5). Our model results also provide evidence that half of the mass loss is already committed under the climate conditions of the last decade.”

Read more here.

View of the Great Aletsch Glacier from Moosfluh, above Bettmeralp (Source: Matthias Huss / ETH Zürich)

Olafur Eliasson event at Columbia University

From Columbia University:

“Renowned Danish-Icelandic visual artist Olafur Eliasson’s large-scale works such as Ice Watch and New York City Waterfalls spark critical dialogue about climate change and our relationship to nature. His work is driven by interests in perception, movement, embodied experience, and feelings of self, engaging the broader public sphere through architectural projects, interventions in civic space, arts education, policy-making, and issues of sustainability.”

Eliasson will speak at Columbia University on September 26, 2019, 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM as part of its Year of Water program. Details about the Eliasson event can be found here.

Early, high-elevation humans lived near glaciers

From Science:

“Studies of early human settlement in alpine environments provide insights into human physiological, genetic, and cultural adaptation potentials. Although Late and even Middle Pleistocene human presence has been recently documented on the Tibetan Plateau, little is known regarding the nature and context of early persistent human settlement in high elevations. Here, we report the earliest evidence of a prehistoric high-altitude residential site. Located in Africa’s largest alpine ecosystem, the repeated occupation of Fincha Habera rock shelter is dated to 47 to 31 thousand years ago. The available resources in cold and glaciated environments included the exploitation of an endemic rodent as a key food source, and this played a pivotal role in facilitating the occupation of this site by Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers.”

Read more here.

Researchers examine a glacier erratic from an ancient, retreating glacier in Ethiopia. (Source: H. Viet)

Read more on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: Images From Huascaran Research Expedition

Observing Flora Near a Famous Norwegian Glacier

Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds ‘Shocking Loss’ of Volume

Photo Friday: An Art Exhibit 1000 Meters Above the Sea

The photography festival Alt. +1000 will return for its fifth run, this year with a theme of global warming and “the trace of man on the mountain.” The festival, which opens September 1st, will feature nearly eighty photographers from Switzerland and abroad. It will take place at three locations situated at an altitude of one thousand meters across the city of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

Each location will host an exhibition inspired by the mountains and people’s interactions with them. In a sixteenth century farm house, the exhibit, “The Trace of Man” will visualize the mark people have made on the mountains. A guided tour through the Musée de Beaux-Arts Le Locle art museum will explore “the relationship between the physical landscape and the mental landscape.” And Project Pressure, a charity that funds artists to document climate change, will unveil its photographic project, “Warning Signs.”

Founded in 2008 by Danish photographer Klaus Thymann, Project Pressure sends photographers and visual artists, along with scientists, on carbon-offset journeys around the world to capture what global warming and the melting of glaciers look like. “Warning Signs,” which will be installed on the shores of Lake Taillères, will feature artwork and informative posters that visualize the climate crisis. The collective, whose aim is to “use art as a positive touch-point to inspire action and behavioural change,” is taking “Warning Signs” on an international tour.

This isn’t the first art exhibit in Switzerland to highlight the cryosphere. The country is also home to the glacier museum Glacier Garden, founded in 1873.

Check out these previews of the festival’s exhibits:

This piece, by Corey Arnold, is a part of Project Pressure’s “Warning Signs.” (Source: Alt. +1000)
“Glacier II” by Noémie Goudal. (Source: Alt. +1000)
Simon Norfolk’s depiction of Lewis Glacier, Mount Kenya. (Source: Alt. +1000)
France’s Glacier du Baounet, as captured by Scott Conarroe.

Read More on GlacierHub:

What the 2018 State of the Climate Report Says About Alpine Glaciers

Video of the Week: The Emerging Dangers of Glacier Tourism

The Funeral for Iceland’s OK Glacier Attracts International Attention

Roundup: Pollen in Ice Cores, Melting in Greenland, and Water Usage in Switzerland

Pollen found in ice cores

From Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research: “Pollen grains are commonly found in ice cores, particularly those from mountain glaciers at low to middle latitudes … We analyzed major pollen grains in an 87-m-deep ice core drilled at the top of the Grigoriev Ice Cap (4563 m.a.s.l.) in the Tien Shan Mountains, Kyrgyz Republic. Microscopy showed that mainly five pollen taxa were contained in the ice core.”

Read the full research article here.

Tien Shan Mountains (Source: Piotr Gaborek, Flickr)

Glacial meltwater’s influence on biogeochemical cycles in greenland

From Frontiers in Marine Science: “Greenland fjords receive considerable amounts of glacial meltwater discharge from the Greenland Ice Sheet due to present climate warming. This impacts the hydrography, via freshening of the fjord waters, and biological processes due to altered nutrient input and the addition of silts … Our results imply that glacially influenced parts of Greenland’s fjords can be considered as hotspots of carbon export to depth. In a warming climate, this export is likely to be enhanced during glacial melting.”

Read the full research article here.

Meltwater on the Greenland ice sheet (Source: YangTS, Flickr)

Water usage in Oberhasli, Switzerland

From Environmental Science and Policy: “Incoherent institutional regimes are among the most critical barriers to adapt water governance under climate change. However, it remains unclear how different governance processes can coordinate competing resource uses despite incoherence of institutional resource regimes. This paper examines how institutional resource regimes and polycentric governance processes are co-evolving and to what extent these processes coordinate competing resource uses in incoherent resource regimes. ”

Read more about the research here.

Oberhasli, Switzerland (Source: Rolf & Beate, Flickr)

Read More on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: The Power of Stories by the Global Oneness Project

Kathmandu Event Highlights Deepening Interest in Hindu Kush Himalaya Region

Video of the Week: An Animated History of Glaciers

Roundup: Deaths in Alaska, Europe’s Heatwave, and Reflections on Afghanistan

Glacier instability is creating dangerous conditions for Alaska tourists

From Anchorage Daily News: “The toe of Valdez Glacier, where the bodies of three boaters were found this week, had become particularly dangerous, said a guide who had altered his own tour route due to the glacier’s increasing instability.”

Read more here.

An aerial view of Alaska’s Valdez Glacier, where the bodies of three boaters were recently found. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Europe’s heatwave brought unusually high melt rates

From E&E News: “The sweltering heat wave that roasted much of Europe last month has since moved north, where it’s wreaking havoc on the Greenland ice sheet. But while all eyes are currently trained on the Arctic ice, scientists are finding that Europe’s coldest places have also suffered.

According to initial findings from the Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network (GLAMOS), Swiss glaciers experienced unusually high melt rates during the last heat wave, which occurred in late July, and an earlier heat wave that struck the continent in late June.”

Read more here.

The Aletsch Glacier is Switzerland’s largest glacier. (Source: Flickr/Sam Rayner)

Reflecting on Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor

From Collateral Values: “On March 30th, 2014, Afghanistan declared the Wakhan Corridor as its second national park. At over 10,000 km2, the park is larger than Yellowstone National Park in the USA. It is high country, ranging from 2500 meters at its west end, to a mountain pass to China at 5000 meters in the east, and peaks of 7000 meters along its southern border. Despite its elevation, the Wakhan National Park is home to iconic wildlife species such as Marco Polo sheep and the snow leopards. It is also home to some 17,000 people. The Wakhan has had a long journey from geopolitical buffer zone to national park, a journey that is not yet complete. It became defined as a specific region during The Great Game of the nineteenth century between the two great empires of the age: Tsarist Russia, and the British Raj in India. The great powers wanted a buffer zone between them, an effort to keep their competition from accidentally spilling over into war. Neither the British, the Russians, nor the Afghan Emir could have known that in the twenty-first century, this buffer zone would come to be valued for its natural capital. While there were ceremonies to declare the park in 2014, it is not yet clear how the park will be managed. The park faces many challenges, but has great potential to preserve rare mountain habitats for the people who live there, and the world beyond its borders.”

Read more here.

The Wakhan Corridor under light snow, with a Wakhi man collecting firewood. (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Tom Hartley)

Read More on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: Aerial Images of Norway

Finger Lakes Residents Connect With the Region’s GlacialPast

Video of the Week: Grizzlies in Glacier National Park

Photo Friday: Images of Europe’s July Heat Wave

Temperature records fell one after another in Europe last week with five countries—Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Luxembourg—registering record highs.

A study conducted by World Weather Attribution concluded that temperatures during the hot spell would have been 1.5-3 degrees Celsius cooler if not for the additional warming brought about by human-caused climate change.

Rank of annual maximum temperatures observed in Europe in 2019 compared to 1950 –2018, based on the E-OBS data set (Haylock et al., 2008, version 19, extended with monthly and daily updates to 30 July 2019). This figure is made with preliminary data and should be taken with caution as some measurements are not yet validated. (Source: World Weather Attribution)

Video posted to Twitter shows how rising temperatures are impacting Europe’s alpine glaciers. Severe-weather.EU posted footage of a massive mudslide barreling down a mountainside on July 28th at the height of the heat wave. The group alleges the mudflow was brought about by melting glaciers in Mauvoisin, Switzerland.

The high pressure system that parked over Europe and brought about the record heat has since moved north, where it’s led to potentially record-breaking melt across Greenland’s ice sheet.

The familiar images of temperature anomalies that are produced by the world’s climate and weather agencies have inspired Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based artist Diane Burko, who is currently working on a painting depicting the July heatwave in Europe.

An image, provided by artist Diane Burko, shows progress on her painting “European Heat Wave.”

Read More on GlacierHub:

What Moody’s Recent Acquisition Means for Assessing the Costs of the Climate Crisis

Rob Wallace Installed to Post in Department of the Interior

Dispatches from the Cryosphere: Intimate Encounters with the Intricate and Disappearing Ice of Everest Base Camp

Roundup: Gold Mining in Peru, an Animated Film Featuring the Andes Mountains, and a Lunar Simulation in a Swiss Glacier

Gold mines in a receding Peruvian glacier

Photographer James Whitlow Delano captures the gold mining scene in the world’s highest permanent human settlement.

From The Washington Post:

“High up in the Andes, La Rinconada is a place where people go to seek whatever fortune they can muster in the gold mines nestled there. Delano describes it as a place with no running water or sewage system, populated by about 30,000 to 50,000 inhabitants. It is a place, Delano says, where ‘for over 500 years, La Bella Durmiente (Sleeping Beauty) has attracted first the Inca, then the Spanish. For decades, artisanal miners, mostly indigenous Quechua and Aymara, have followed a receding glacier up the valley hoping to find the mother lode, burrowing deep inside the mountain at over 17,700 feet.’”

The town of La Rinconada, Peru (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Animated Netflix film features Andean glaciers and environmentalism

From Animation World Network:

“14 years in the making, Pachamama, Juan Antin’s animated tale about a 10-year old Andean boy’s journey to reclaim his village’s irreplaceable treasure, premieres today on Netflix. Set during the time of the Spanish Conquistadors and their South American incursions, the Cesar Award-nominated film is Antin’s homage to the indigenous cultures of the Andes, and takes its name for the concept of ‘Pachamama,’ both an earth mother goddess figure as well as a more general concept of living in harmony with the Earth, akin to the idea of ‘Mother Nature.’”

Swiss glacier provides a home for an experimental lunar habitat

After their inaugural 2019 campaign, Igluna, coordinated by the Swiss Space Center, is running their 2020 program to enable teams of students across Europe to work on technology that would help sustain human life on the moon. As in 2019, the technology will be tested in a Zermatt glacier.

From the Swiss Space Center:

“IGLUNA 2020 is an international student project to build a space habitat demonstrator for sustaining life in an extreme environment. Not only does it demonstrate technologies of the future, but also a new way of collaboration across universities, industry and the space community – while forming students in applied project work. In one year, student teams from various disciplines and different countries across Europe develop their demonstrator modules. Their common objective: to integrate the projects together in a test bed in Switzerland in July 2020. Through international collaboration and interdisciplinary team work, the students gain practical experience in project management, build life-long networks, and kick-start their careers.”

Read More on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: Glacier Melt in Bolivia Exacerbates the Nation’s Water Crisis

Dispatches From the Cryosphere: Intimate Encounters with the Intricate and Disappearing Ice of Everest Base Camp

Video of the Week: Iceland’s Okjökull Glacier Is Gone But Not Forgotten

Photo Friday: Fi Bunn’s Alpine Images

This past year has been an exciting time for me as an alpine photographer. I managed to travel to southern Switzerland three times, combining trips with family and professional events in order to minimize my ecological footprint. I also brought along my new camera, a Nikon DS5600 with a 18-140mm Nikkor zoom lens. It continues to be a privilege to visit such an awesome place with mountains to climb, beautiful scenery to photograph, and great hospitality with the local mountain communities.

The Breithorn Traverse (4,164 meters) is part of the Monte Rosa massif, Pennine Alps, Valais, Switzerland. (Source: Fi Bunn)

Monte Rosa (4,634 meters) is located in the Pennine Alps, Valais, Switzerland and consists of two summits, Nordend (4,609 m) and Dufourspitze (4,634 m). (Source: Fi Bunn)

Even though I have visited many other places, it is these alpine communities that draw me back again and again. I love to see the mountains during different seasons, and that is partly why I’ve branched out from my favored black-and-white photography to shoot more color images. The results can be seen in my 2019 exhibitions.

The Ober Gabelhorn, Zinalrothorn, and Weisshorn are 3 of the 38 summits that rise over 4,000 meters in height in the Zermatt, Valais region of Switzerland. (Source: Fi Bunn)

I continue to investigate new scramble routes, meet amazing fellow “explorers,” and make new friends during my expeditions. I listen to stories from locals about the impact of climate change. This summer I heard more about the Zinal Glacier in the Pennine Alps, Valais. It is a 7-kilometer-long glacier, which, according to those who live close by, is shrinking at a rate of 30 meters per year.

Lyskamm Mountain (4,527 meters), also known as Silberbast, is situated between Switzerland and Italy. (Source: Fi Bunn)

Through my photography, I hope to encourage open and respectful debate about climate change. As the issue attracts more media attention, I was delighted and surprised to be invited to give three exhibitions in the first part of 2019. The exhibition spaces are big, enabling me to print large-format versions of my images. It has always been my hope and dream to give visitors a real immersive experience, and I can already see areas for developing more fully this sensory aspect. So this summer I will be traveling back to the Alps to research and develop ideas for the next stage in my photographic exploration of the Alps.

The Weisshorn (4,506 meters), also known as “the secret star” of the Swiss Alps, is situated between Anniviers and Zermatt in the canton of Valais. (Source: Fi Bunn)
The Breithorn Plateau forms the starting point for climbers ascending the 4,000 meter Valais Swiss alps of Breithorn, Castor, and Pollux. (Source: Fi Bunn)

Fi Bunn’s upcoming exhibitions take place May 11-18 at Victorinox, Bond Street, London and in mid-August through September at St. Margaret’s Heritage Centre, Quarry Street, Guildford, Surrey.

You can find find more of her photographs on her website, as well as following her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She can be emailed at FiAlpinePhotos@gmail.com.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Photographing Transformation and Ethnographic Predicaments in Nepal’s Himalaya

Illustrating the Adventures of German Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt

Video of the Week: Can Blankets Protect Swiss Glaciers from Melting?

Video of the Week: Can Blankets Protect Swiss Glaciers from Melting?

People in Switzerland are taking matters into their own hands, becoming creative with their efforts to combat climate change.

In a recent tweet from NBC Left Field, members of a community in the Swiss Alps are seen covering glaciers with ginormous white tarps. They hope the tarps will help reflect sunlight, which could reduce the amount of melting caused by rising temperatures.

The residents describe in the video their fear that the water they receive from the glaciers might soon disappear. Glaciers have long been a dependable water source for regions all over the world, but not anymore.

In honor of Earth Day, NBC Left Field tweeted a video depicting people covering glaciers with blankets.

[Click here to watch the full video on YouTube.]

A 2018 article in the Washington Post describes how a group of people living adjacent to Rhone Glacier haul tarps through the mountains each year prior to the start of summer. Rising temperatures, as well as a longer summer season, means glaciers are likely to face rapid melting in coming years.

But can blankets really help save the glaciers?

Although it isn’t the most comprehensive solution, it may actually work. Swiss glaciologist David Volken told NDTV that the blankets could reduce ice melt by as much as 70 percent. It’s just a temporary fix, though. Volken estimates that by the end of the century only about 10 percent of the ice volume will remain.

The blankets, however, appear to be slowing the pace of melting, giving communities some time to adapt and consider alternate sources of water.

Read More on GlacierHub:

North Cascade 2019 Winter Accumulation Assessment

The Dead of Mount Everest Are Seeing the Light of Day

Glaciers Account for More Sea Level Rise Than Previously Thought

Roundup: Catastrophe on Mt. Ararat, Albedo Effect in the Alps, and Meltwater in Greenland

Reappraising the 1840 Ahora Gorge Catastrophe

Mt. Ararat is seen from the northeast in 2009. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

From Geomorphology: “Ahora Gorge is a 400 m deep canyon located along the North Eastern flank of Mt. Ararat (Turkey), a compound volcanic complex covered by an ice cap. In the past, several diarists and scientific authors reported a calamitous event on July 2, 1840, when a landslide triggered by a volcanic eruption and/or an earthquake obliterated several villages located at the foot of the volcano. The reasons and effects of this Ahora Gorge Catastrophe (AGC) event have been obscure and ambiguous. To reappraise the 1840 catastrophe and the geomorphic evolution of the Ahora Gorge, we used high-resolution satellite images, remote sensing thermal data supplemented by observations collected during two field surveys.”

Albedo Effect in the Swiss Alps

The Oberaar glacier is seen from Oberaar, Bern, Switzerland in 2010. (Source: Simo Räsänen/Wikimedia Commons)

From The Cryosphere: “Albedo feedback is an important driver of glacier melt over bare-ice surfaces. Light-absorbing impurities strongly enhance glacier melt rates but their abundance, composition and variations in space and time are subject to considerable uncertainties and ongoing scientific debates. In this study, we assess the temporal evolution of shortwave broadband albedo derived from 15 end-of-summer Landsat scenes for the bare-ice areas of 39 large glaciers in the western and southern Swiss Alps. […] Although a darkening of glacier ice was found to be present over only a limited region, we emphasize that due to the recent and projected growth of bare-ice areas and prolongation of the ablation season in the region, the albedo feedback will considerably enhance the rate of glacier mass loss in the Swiss Alps in the near future.”

Glacier Meltwater Impacts in Greenland

An iceberg floats in Franz Josef Fjord, Greenland (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

From Marine Ecology Progress Series: “Arctic benthic ecosystems are expected to experience strong modifications in the dynamics of primary producers and/or benthic-pelagic coupling under climate change. However, lack of knowledge about the influence of physical constraints (e.g. ice-melting associated gradients) on organic matter sources, quality, and transfers in systems such as fjords can impede predictions of the evolution of benthic-pelagic coupling in response to global warming. Here, sources and quality of particulate organic matter (POM) and sedimentary organic matter (SOM) were characterized along an inner-outer gradient in a High Arctic fjord (Young Sound, NE Greenland) exposed to extreme seasonal and physical constraints (ice-melting associated gradients). The influence of the seasonal variability of food sources on 2 dominant filter-feeding bivalves (Astarte moerchi and Mya truncata) was also investigated. Results revealed the critical impact of long sea ice/snow cover conditions prevailing in Young Sound corresponding to a period of extremely poor and degraded POM and SOM.”

Read More on GlacierHub: 

Rising Temperatures Threaten Biodiversity Along the Antarctic Peninsula

Mongolia’s Cashmere Goats Graze a Precarious Steppe

United Nations Steps for Building Functional Early Warning Systems

Roundup: GLOF Risk Perception in Nepal, UAV’s in the Andes, and Swiss Avalanches

GLOF Risk Perception in Nepal Himalaya

Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) pose a significant, climate change-related risk to the Mt. Everest region of Nepal. Given the existence of this imminent threat to mountain communities, understanding how people perceive the risk of GLOFs, as well as what factors influence this perception, is crucial for development of local climate change adaptation policies. A recent study, published in Natural Hazards, finds that GLOF risk perception in Nepal is linked to a variety of socioeconomic and cultural factors.”

Read more about GLOF risk in Nepal here.

Overlooking a village and glacial river in the Khumbu valley, Mt. Everest region of Nepal (Source: Matt W/Flickr).

 

Drones in the Service of Sustainability: Tracking Soil Moisture in the Peruvian Andes

“Amid the tropical Andes of Peru lies the Cordillera Blanca mountains, home to more tropical glaciers than anywhere else on Earth. This range provides water to some 95 million people. Rising temperatures over the last several decades, however, mean its once abundant glaciers are vanishing rapidly. That’s impacting the water supply of downstream communities, which are becoming increasingly dependent on soil moisture.

In an innovative study published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment, researchers used drones to obtain high-resolution images of the valleys left behind as Cordillera Blanca’s glaciers recede. As the drones pass over these “proglacial valleys,” they can produce highly accurate maps of the soil moisture within the fields, rivers, wetlands, and meadows below.”

Read more about UAV’s for remote sensing here.

The researchers used a custom-built drone (Source: Oliver Wigmore)

 

Heavy Snowfall and the Threat of Avalanches in Switzerland

“In January, officials dropped a series of controlled explosives to set off avalanches on mountains near the Moiry Glacier in southern Switzerland due to an increased amount of snowfall during the month. Communities are directed to stay inside (or preferably go into a basement) while the avalanches are triggered and close all shutters. Controlled avalanches are intended to reduce the severity of an avalanche as well as collateral debris from an avalanche, making it safer for adventurers to romp around the backcountry. The use of explosives to mitigate avalanche risk is used throughout many mountain communities, especially when areas experience above average snowfall.”

Read more about the Swiss avalanches here.

Avalanche in Zinal, Switzerland (Source: WikiCommons/Camptocamp.org)

2018: An Exceptional Year of Losses for Swiss Glaciers

In 2018, Swiss glaciers lost over 2.5 percent of their overall volume, reported the Swiss Academy of Sciences in a recent press release. This corresponds to 1.4 billion cubic meters of ice that melted from Switzerland’s glaciers in just one year.

Swiss glaciers: Findelen Glacier 2018 on GlacierHub
The Findelen Glacier, in the Monte Rosa region of southern Valais, Switzerland. Only glaciers at the highest altitudes (over 2000m) had snow thickness losses of less than one meter (Source: Matthias Huss/Swiss Academy of Sciences).

However, this year of exceptional melting actually began with a rather promising winter season. The 2017-2018 winter commenced earlier than expected in Switzerland, starting in the first days of November and continuing through December with reported snowfall above average levels. January also saw higher temperatures than normal, as well increased precipitation.

While snow depth below 1000m elevation was around half the expected average by January, snow above 2000m elevation was still twice the expected average in March, representing the highest snow levels seen in the past 20 years.

GlacierHub interviewed the author of the press release, Matthias Huss, who said, “After the winter measurements in April and May, we actually thought that this might be a good year for the glaciers at last.” Huss is also the leader of the Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network (GLAMOS) and a glaciologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Switzerland.

Swiss glaciers: rivers of glacial melt at Findelen Glacier 2018 on GlacierHub
On the Findelen Glacier, even above 3000m elevation, rivers of glacial melt flowed well into September (Source: Matthias Huss/Swiss Academy of Sciences).

However, both April and May were hot and dry, decreasing snow at altitude to relatively normal levels. Then, the months from April to September were characterized by drought conditions and high temperatures, making it the third-hottest and overall driest summer on record.

“This is probably the largest annual shrinkage since the mega-heatwave of 2003,” said Martin Beniston, an honorary professor and former director of the Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, in an interview with GlacierHub.

Both Beniston and Huss told GlacierHub that, had it not been for this snow-rich winter, Switzerland’s glaciers would have faced even more extreme losses. Indeed, the above-average quantities of snow in the Alps during winter 2017-2018 helped offset some loss of ice this summer.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist at Nichols College and the director of the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project commented on the implications of 2018’s extreme melting. “The significance of a big year of melt followed by another is there will be no comparable rebound,” he said.

Swiss glaciers: Pizol Glacier in 2006 and 2018 reveals massive glacial retreat on GlacierHub
A comparison of the Pizol Glacier in 2006 to 2018, revealing massive glacial retreat and ice covered in debris (Source: Matthias Huss/Swiss Academy of Sciences).

Wilfried Haeberli, a glaciologist and professor emeritus at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, put this year’s loss in perspective. “Since the turn of the century the average loss rate of all glaciers in the Alps can be estimated at around 1-2 percent per year. The loss rate of 2018 is roughly twice this amount,” he noted in an interview with GlacierHub. Together in the last 10 years, Swiss glaciers have lost one-fifth of their volume, which is enough to cover the entirety of Switzerland with 25 cm of water

While certainly extreme, losing 2.5 percent of glacial volume in one year is not unprecedented. Years with observations of “extreme” glacier melt are becoming both more frequent and more severe. Huss recalled the years 2015 and 2017, when Swiss glaciers lost comparable amounts of ice, saying, “2018 was not absolutely exceptional, in terms of the last decade. And this is of course the actually worrying news.”

Pelto, Beniston, and Haeberli echoed similar sentiments, saying that the observed losses for Swiss glaciers were, “exceptional but not unusual,” and that 2018 was, “hardly a surprise,” but instead, “part of a long-term development, which is in agreement with robust results from model simulations about global warming and glacier vanishing,” respectively.   

On a global scale, glaciated areas in several other countries saw noticeably higher snowlines and rapid volume loss due to melting in 2018. Some notable examples of this widespread glacial retreat include: the Lowell Glacier in Yukon, Canada; the Taku Glacier in Alaska, U.S.; the Chubda, Angge, and Bailang Glaciers along the Bhutan-China border; and the Inostrantsev and Pavlova Glaciers in Novaya Zemlya, off the coast of northern Russia.

Swiss glaciers: Lake at the tongue of the Rhone Glacier on GlacierHub
The Rhone Glacier developed a lake at its tongue again in 2018, due to the exceptional melting (Source: Matthias Huss/Swiss Academy of Sciences).

“The fact that high snowlines and mass balance loss are affecting glaciers in every corner of the world indicates that this is not a regional change, but that global climate change is the driver,” said Pelto. 

Huss also pointed out the difficulty of deducing whether extreme conditions in the past few years is due to weather variability, or whether we are to experience these extremes as our new normal. However, noting that the volume loss for Swiss glaciers in the past decade was more than expected based on projected scenarios for the 21st century, he is certain that, “if it is the latter, then we might expect Swiss glaciers to disappear even earlier than expected.”

According to Beniston, since the 3rd Assessment Report of the IPCC in 2001, projections have estimated that at the current rate of climate change, glaciers will decline by anywhere from 50 to 90 percent by 2100. “[This year] provides a measure of things to come,” he said, “in the sense that by the second half of the 21st century, what are considered extreme summers today (like 2018) will become average summers.”

Ultimately, Haeberli told GlacierHub he sees these striking glacier mass losses as “writing on the wall,” indicating that opportunities for action to reduce impacts of global warming are now being lost. He closed his comments by calling upon the necessity of “rapid deceleration” of greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit negative effects on living conditions on Earth and allow us more time to “develop well-reflected sustainable adaptation strategies.”