IceWatcher: The app tracking Switzerland’s melting glaciers

Climate change-induced melting of Switzerland's glaciers can now be tracked via a new app.

IceWatcher: The app tracking Switzerland's melting glaciers

Mountaineers who stumble across archaeological relics revealed by retreating glaciers in the Swiss Alps can now use a new app to log the location and help preserve their findings.

The southwestern Wallis region said Tuesday the IceWatcher mobile phone application should help them collect and store glacial finds as quickly as possible.

Wallis contains several important glaciers, including the Aletsch, the largest in the Alps.

Due to global warming, glaciers are releasing relics of up to thousands of years, the Wallis cantonal authorities said in a statement.

“Preserved and isolated by ice, these elements are particularly fragile as soon as they are released.

“The cold preserves certain organic material in a remarkable way, but once out of this protective covering, the relics start degrading, which can quickly lead to their disappearance.”

Glaciers in the Swiss Alps are in steady decline, losing a full two percent of their volume last year alone, according to the Swiss Academies of Science.

READ MORE: Swiss hold high-altitude ‘funeral march’ for lost glacier

And even if the 2015 Paris Agreement calling for global warming to be capped at two degrees Celsius were to be implemented, two-thirds of Alpine glaciers will likely be lost, according to a 2019 study by the ETH technical university in Zurich.

Amid surging temperatures, glaciologists predict that 95 percent of the 4,000 Alpine glaciers could disappear by the end of this century.

While archaeologists lament the devastating toll of climate change, many acknowledge it has created an opportunity to dramatically expand understanding of mountain life millennia ago.

Mountaineers with mobiles

The Wallis cantonal archeological office (OCA) is developing tools for tracking objects released by melting glaciers. But given the sheer “impossibility” of monitoring the whole surface area, the region is calling on the help of mountaineers with mobiles.

“Most discoveries are not made by archaeologists,” Romain Andenmatten, archaeologist and scientific officer at the Wallis OCA, told AFP. He estimated there were five to 10 discoveries of glacial archeology per year, of varying interest.

The free-to-download app’s home screen tells users not to touch anything they find. Then they select the type of object discovered, take a close-up photo with a comparable object for scale and a wider shot of the landscape indicating where the object was found.

Along with geolocation data, the information will be compiled and the OCA will then assess the relevance of the findings and get to work on collecting and conserving them.

The app is currently only used by the Wallis OCA, but Andenmatten stressed they would pass on any findings reported elsewhere. He also hoped it app could eventually be used everywhere to log new discoveries.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Heatwave: Why is it so hot in Switzerland right now?

Not so long ago we complained about the cold and rainy weather in Switzerland, wishing for sunnier and warmer days. Our wish has come true — but why exactly is it so hot and what can we expect for the coming weeks?

Heatwave: Why is it so hot in Switzerland right now?

The temps have reached high 20s across much of Switzerland in the past days, but the best (or the worst, depending on who you ask) is yet to come: meteorologists forecast the high of 32 degrees for Friday.

“The current heat wave is relatively extreme for a month of May”, meteorologist Joshua Gehring from official weather service MeteoSwiss said in an interview with Watson news platform.

Why is it so unseasonably hot right now?

One reason should come as no surprise to anyone: “What we are currently experiencing, that is to say a relatively early heat wave, is a direct consequence of climate change”, Gehring noted.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

Specifically, a phenomenon called “heat dome” is hovering over Europe. It is, according to Gehring, “a stagnant anticyclone that acts as a lid to accumulate and retain heat”.

This is pretty much what happens when you put a lid over a boiling pot — the heat therein is captured and can’t escape.

What can we expect for next week?

The forecast calls for the heat wave to end from the beginning of next week, with more seasonal, 20-degree-plus temperatures expected throughout the country.

This is what the forecast looks like for Tuesday:

MeteoSwiss screenshot

What can you do in the meantime to cool down?

Indoor air-conditioning is rare in Switzerland, but keeping cool is easier outdoors.

For instance, the abundance of lakes and rivers in Switzerland provides a welcome relief on hot days.

And if you like swimming pools, the good news is (at least during a heat wave) that some are turning off heating to boycott Russian gas, so you could have a nice, cool swim.

READ MORE: Swiss pools go cold in boycott of Russian gas

Also, most public fountains in Switzerland spout cold water you can drink and splash yourself with.

If all else falls, head for the glaciers (while they last).