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Alpine glaciers dwindling away

I’m back! No more excuses, autumn is here and the extended summer break is definitely over.
But as expected, my trip to some of Switzerland’s beautiful alpine glaciers this summer provided some worrying evidence. Hiking in the Saastal or Saas valley, an area I first discovered in 1984 and have visited at irregular intervals since, the differences in the extent of some of the glaciers was striking.
Let me give you a few pictures. I’d like to show you some of the 1984 shots alongside, but since that was definitely the pre-digital age, they are not so easily available. And you can still see quite clearly how the glaciers are changing.

This is the area around Saas-Fee in Wallis or Valais, Switzerland. You can see the glaciers stop fairly high up. In 1984, the view was very different. Switzerland’s glaciers are melting rapidly as the earth warms.
Just over a year ago, more than 200’000 cubic metres of ice broke off the “Feegletscher”.

This is a popular walking trail above Saas Fee. The glacier to the right of the picture, used to be really close to the path.

Another shot of the retreating glacier.I have an old photo of trees against the background of white ice, taken very close to the path.

This is the “Bidergletscher”. It’s taken from a hiking trail. When we first walked this path, you could climb up to the glacier without too much effort. Now it’s high above.

This is the area around Mount Allalin, one of the impressive 4000 metre + peaks that make this area so special. Beautiful, but changing fast.

Isn’t ice beautiful? The formations here remind me of corals.

The idea of covering glaciers to protect them from summer sun seems to be quite widespread in the Alps at the moment. It seems to me like a very desperate measure. Some of the locals I talked to were not impressed. On the whole, though, people don’t seem to be as worried as you’d expect.

The average annual temperature in most areas of the Swiss apls has risen by one to two degrees over the last 100 years. A study by the University of Zürich (2006) suggest the alpine glaciers could lose 80% of their surface area if summer temperatures rise by 3 degrees.

More information on Swiss glaciers and environment

There is more information at Swiss glacier monitoring network


October 13, 2010 | 1:57 pm



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