Climate Change: Swiss Alps to fade away by 2100

April 20, 2019 4:14 PM |

Climate Change and Swiss Alps

It will not be wrong to say that glaciers in the European Alps and their recent evolution are some of the clearest indicators of the ongoing climate change. The recent study by a group of researchers in Switzerland posed a threat to all glaciers in the Alps. There stands a chance that from 2017 to 2050, nearly 50% of glacier volume would disappear.

Harry Zekollari, a researcher at ETH Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forecast, Snow and Landscape Research, now at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands said that after 2050, the future evolution of glaciers will strongly depend on how the climate will evolve.

Melting of glaciers will undoubtedly have a large impact on the Alps. These are an important part of the region’s ecosystem, landscape and economy. These glaciers attract tourists to the mountain ranges and act as natural fresh water reservoirs.

Glaciers in general provide a source of water for fauna and flora, as well as for agriculture and hydroelectricity, which is considerably important in warm and dry periods.

Zekollari and his co-authors have used new computer models that combine ice flow and melt processes to study how glaciers would manage in a warming world. Also, this study depicts how each of these ice bodies would change in the future for different emission scenarios. Here in this study they used 2017 as their ‘present day’ reference, a year when Alpine glaciers had a total volume of about 100 cubic kilometres.

It is expected that emissions of greenhouse gases would peak in the next few years and then decline rapidly under a scenario implying limited warming, called RCP2.6. This would keep the level of added warming at the end of the century below two degrees since pre-industrial levels. In such a case, Alpine glaciers would be reduced to about 37 cubic kilometres by 2100 which is just over one-third of the present-day volume.

Matthias Huss, a researcher at ETH Zurich and co-author of the Cryosphere study has to say that under the high-emissions scenario, corresponding to RCP8.5, emissions are expected to continue to rise rapidly over the next few decades. And, in such a case, the Alps will be mostly ice free by 2100, with only isolated ice patches remaining at high elevation, representing five percent or less of the present-day ice volume. Global emissions are currently just above what is projected by this scenario.

Keeping all scenarios in mind by 2050, the Alps would lose about 50% of their present glacier volume.

The glaciers at present have ‘too much’ ice in terms of volume, especially at the lower elevations. It still reflects the colder climate of the past because glaciers are slow at responding to changing climate conditions. To this Zekollari added that even if they try to stop the climate from warming any further and keeping it at the level of the past 10 years. Glaciers still would lose about 40% of their present-day volume by 2050 because of the ‘glacier response time’.

The future of the Alps glaciers is indeed at risk, but there still stands a possibility to limit their future losses.

Image Credit: Condé Nast Traveller

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