Despite an exceptionally snow-filled winter, Swiss glaciers have lost 2.5 percent of their volume this year, said a report published yesterday, which dubbed this year “a year of extremes.”
This year’s record-breaking temperatures have greatly contributed to the loss of “a fifth of [the glaciers’] volume over the past decade,” an annual study on the state of the glaciers published by the Swiss Academies of Science said.
This is despite the piles and piles of snow that fell during the 2017-2018 winter season, following three consecutive years of little snow in the Alpine country.
Snow acts like a protective covering that prevents glaciers from melting.
“Up until the end of March, there was still more than twice as much snow as usual above an altitude of 2,000 meters,” the authors said.
However, the exceptional snowfall at the start of the year was matched by soaring temperatures and little to no precipitation after March.
According to the Swiss Office of Meteorology, the period from June to August ranked among the hottest on record after 2003 and 2015.
And the period from April to September was “by far the hottest ever recorded” in Switzerland, the report said.
It cited as an example the case of Weissfluhjoch peak (2,540m), which hosts the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche research.
The peak saw no snowfall of more than 1cm from May 17 to Sept. 4 — a first in the 81 years of record-keeping, the report said.
The heat and lack of precipitation “not only melted large quantities of winter snow [up to 5m on some glaciers], but also melted the ice,” said Matthias Huss, in charge of the Glacier Monitoring Network.
The Swiss glaciers have rarely experienced such a melt, with the exception of when Europe was hit by a massive heatwave 15 years ago, he said.
“2003 remains the worst year for the glaciers, but 2018 is clearly in the top 10 over the past century, and the top three for some glaciers,” he said.
“If there had been the same low level of snowfall as in 2017, 2018 would definitely have broken the overall record,” he added.
Last week, a landmark UN climate report warned drastic action was needed to prevent Earth from hurtling towards an unbearable rise in temperature.
“The shrinking of the glaciers is directly linked to climate change,” Huss said.
If the planet continues warming at the same pace as today, “many of Switzerland’s smaller glaciers will completely disappear,” he said.
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