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Swiss warn of glacier shedding massive chunk

A massive part of a glacier the size of 12 football fields in the Swiss Alps could break off, local authorities warned, after the discovery of an enormous crevasse in the glacier.

The Jungfrau's north face
Ryan Gsell

Swiss authorities have formed a crisis team to monitor the situation and blocked all hiking trails close to the Giesen glacier located at an altitude of 2,800 metres, below the north face of the Jungfrau peak in the Bernese Alps.

Christian Abbühl, who is heading the crisis team at the Lauterbrunnen commune, confirmed that the area of ice that risks breaking off is equivalent to about 12 football fields.

“But we do not know how thick the ice is, so we do not know the volume of water that could be generated if it melts,” he said.

The large crack was discovered about a month ago, and prompted the Lauterbrunnen commune to issue a warning.

“A crevasse has been discovered at the Giesen glacier, which is found on the northeast side under the Jungfrau, leading to small pieces of ice falling off,” said the commune.

“We cannot rule out that a large amount of ice could break off in the direction of Trimmleten-Sandbach,” it added.

Abbühl said the situation remains unchanged from the September warning, but noted that it could improve as the temperature falls.

While it has been unseasonably warm in early October, the weather is expected to turn by Friday, with snowfall expected in the Alps.

“At the moment, the danger is not so great as it is going to get colder. For the population there is also no immediate danger,” noted Abbuehl.

“But we are observing the situation on a daily basis and we have closed off the hiking paths around the site,” he added.

It is not uncommon for parts of glaciers to break off. At the same time, a cold front could also cause glaciers to form from melting snow.

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WEATHER

Climate crisis: Swiss lakes at lowest-ever August levels

Some of Switzerland's best-known lakes are at their lowest level ever for August after a dry year so far in 2022, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.

Climate crisis: Swiss lakes at lowest-ever August levels

Some of Switzerland’s best-known lakes are at their lowest level ever for August after a dry year so far in 2022, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.

At the same time, discharge levels on the Rhine, one of Europe’s major rivers which starts in the Swiss Alps, have never been so low in August since records began.

“There is a low water situation in Switzerland, especially on the central plateau and in the southern part of Ticino,” the country’s southernmost canton, said Michele Oberhansli, from the Federal Office for the Environment’s hydrology division.

READ ALSO: Water flown in by helicopter: How Switzerland has been hit by drought

“The reason for the existing situation is a precipitation deficit in the whole year of 2022, which affects the whole of Switzerland, as well as many other European countries,” she told AFP.

Soil moisture is down across the country and drought is affecting forests and agriculture, she said.

Lakes Constance, Lucerne, Lugano and Walen “are currently recording water levels that have never been so low in an August month since measurements began”, said Oberhansli.

Meanwhile Lakes Zug and Maggiore “continue to show values well below average”.

The shores of Lake Maggiore mark the lowest point in Switzerland, normally at 193 metres above sea level.

READ ALSO: MAP: The Swiss regions in danger of wildfires and the measures in place to avoid them

Except the lakes in the Jura region in the northwest and Lake Thun, the levels of all the other larger Swiss lakes are also below the long-term average.

Rivers down, glaciers melting

Meanwhile many Swiss rivers are recording readings that only occur once every two to 20 years.

“Discharge values on the Reuss and Rhine have never been so low since measurements began in August,” said Oberhansli.

The hydrologist said rain over the coming days should “slightly alleviate” the low water and drought levels, but would “not yet be sufficient to ease the overall situation”.

Following a dry winter, the summer heatwaves hitting Europe have been catastrophic for Switzerland’s Alpine glaciers, which have been melting at an accelerated rate.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: Runners take on Swiss glacier race despite melt

A layer of ice — 15 metres thick in 2012 — has covered the Tsanfleuron Pass between two glaciers since at least the Roman era.

But most of it has gone and the ice on the pass will have melted away completely by the end of September, a ski resort said last week.

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