The Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland is the largest glacier in the Alps. Every year, it attracts thousands of visitors from around the world. The huge ice flow in the Upper Valais region of Switzerland is an Alpine tourist attraction second only to the Matterhorn. In the summer, meltwater from the glacier is an important water source in the dry Rhone Valley.
As the climate continues to warm, the massive glacier continues to shrink. The tongue of the glacier has receded by about a kilometer since the year 2000 and scientists predict that this trend will continue over the coming years.
Detailed simulations by researchers at ETH Zurich assessed the future of the Aletsch Glacier under different scenarios related to the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and the resulting warming.
The best-case scenario in which global warming is limited to less than 2 degrees Celsius would result in the glacier being half the size it is today by the end of the century. If the global community does not pull together quickly to take effective measures against global warming, Switzerland could warm by as much as 4 to 8 degrees and by 2100, what was once the largest glacier in the Alps will be a couple of measly patches of ice.
To understand how much global warming has already impacted the glacier to date, even if somehow the climate remains the same as it has been for the past 10 years going forward, the ice volume of the Aletsch glacier will still decrease by nearly half its volume by the end of the century. The glacier is no longer in equilibrium with the climate.
Gloomy forecast for the Aletsch Glacier
Photo, posted April 7, 2007, courtesy of Jessica Gardner via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
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