Author Topic: SWISS GLACIERS 'IN FULL RETREAT'  (Read 784 times)

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SWISS GLACIERS 'IN FULL RETREAT'
« on: December 20, 2008, 04:44:06 PM »
Swiss glaciers are melting away at an accelerating rate and many will vanish this century if climate projections are correct, two new studies suggest.

One assessment found that some 10 cubic km of ice have been lost from 1,500 glaciers over the past nine years.

The other study, based on a sample of 30 representative glaciers, indicates the group's members are now losing a metre of thickness every year.

Both pieces of work come out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

"The trend is negative, but what we see is that the trend is also steepening," said Matthias Huss from the Zurich university's Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology.

"Glaciers are starting to lose mass increasingly fast," he told BBC News.

The retreat is being driven largely by longer melting seasons. The other key factor in glacier health - the amount of winter snowfall to replace ice melt - shows no long-term changes.

The two studies are being presented here at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, the world's largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.

They are not the first to assess the status of Swiss glaciers but few others can match their scope.

Summer heatwave

In one, Daniel Farinotti and his team tried to assess the total volume of ice in Swiss glaciers -1,500 of them, from the mighty Aletschgletscher (the largest glacier in the Alps) to small ice fields that cover less than three square km.

The research used direct measurements where available, and combined this with modelling to estimate ice volumes for areas that are data-deficient.

The assessment found a total ice volume present in the Swiss Alps of about 75 cubic km by the year 1999 (a baseline for the purpose of the study). It is a bigger figure than previously thought.

"However, 1999 is quite some time ago now, so what we did was try to calculate the volume lost since this baseline; and we estimate a figure of 13% - from 1999 to today," explained Mr Farinotti.

For 2003, remembered for its strong heatwave across Europe, the team estimates that 3-4% of the volume in Switzerland at that time was lost in that one year alone.

Mr Farinotti said his study highlighted the importance of the largest glaciers as ice reservoirs: more than 80% of the total ice volume is stored in the 50 largest glaciers.

"Aletschgletscher, for example, has about 12% of the area of Swiss glaciers but it contains about a quarter of all ice that is present in Switzerland," he told BBC News.

"What really matters is how much ice we have in the big glaciers, because the small ones will disappear; that seems clear. For them, it's just a matter of years. But in glaciers like Aletsch that have a lot of ice, they will be around for decades."

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SWISS GLACIERS 'IN FULL RETREAT'
« on: December 20, 2008, 04:44:06 PM »

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