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Swiss glaciers melting away at record rate

2022-09-28 HKT 15:21
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  • Three cubic kilometres of ice, or three trillion litres of water, from Swiss glaciers have melted away. File photo: AFP
    Three cubic kilometres of ice, or three trillion litres of water, from Swiss glaciers have melted away. File photo: AFP
Switzerland's glaciers lost six percent of their total volume this year due to a dry winter and repeated summer heatwaves, shattering previous ice melt records, a report revealed on Wednesday.

The study by the Cryospheric Commission (CC) of the Swiss Academy of Sciences laid bare the drastic scale of glacial retreat – which is only set to get worse.

The CC said: "2022 was a disastrous year for Swiss glaciers: all ice melt records were smashed." It added that a two percent loss in 12 months had previously been considered "extreme".

Three cubic kilometres of ice – three trillion litres of water – have melted away, the report said.

"It's not possible to slow down the melting in the short term," said glaciology professor Matthias Huss, head of Glacier Monitoring in Switzerland, which documents long-term glacier changes in the Alps and is coordinated by the CC.

If carbon dioxide emissions are reduced and the climate protected, "this might save about one third of the total volumes in Switzerland in the best case", he said.

Otherwise, the country "will be losing almost everything by the end of the century".

At the start of the year, the snow cover in the Alps was exceptionally light, then a large volume of sand dust blew in from the Sahara Desert between March and May, settling on the surface.

The contaminated snow absorbed more heat and melted faster, depriving the glaciers of their protective snow coating by early in the European summer.

The continuous heat between May and early September therefore ravaged the glacial ice.

By mid-September, the once-thick layer of ice that covered the pass between the Scex Rouge and Tsanfleuron glaciers had completely melted away, exposing bare rock that had been frozen over since at least the Roman era.

And in early July, the collapse of a section of the Marmolada glacier, the biggest in the Italian Alps, killed 11 people and highlighted how serious the situation had become.

According to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published in February, the melting of ice and snow is one of the 10 key threats from climate change. (AFP)