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CLIMATE CRISIS

Why Switzerland’s glaciers are melting faster than usual this summer

Switzerland’s glaciers have been shrinking as a result of climate change, but they are now receding faster than before. These are three reasons why this is happening.

Why Switzerland's glaciers are melting faster than usual this summer
Glaciers are melting faster this year. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Glaciers in the Swiss Alps are in steady decline, losing  2 percent of their volume last year alone, according to a study published by the Swiss Academies of Science.

While Alpine glaciers have been melting for decades — mostly due to global warming, scientists say — this phenomenon has intensified in the past several months.

Three factors have contributed to this erosion, according to Matthias Huss, according to glaciologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich:

First heat wave of the year already in May

The early heat wave and the warmest May in many decades has impacted a number of Alpine regions, including the Jungfraujoch and Aletsch glaciers.

Temps exceeded above 0 degrees, reinforcing the melting process of the glaciers.

READ MORE: Switzerland’s May temperatures ‘highest in 150 years’

Sahara dust

A cloud of fine sand from Morocco and Algeria that  covered parts of  Switzerland in March and April was not good for the glaciers.

 “The remarkably strong Sahara dust reinforced the melting of glaciers in the short and longer term,” Huss said.

READ MORE: Dust from the Sahara Desert covers parts of Switzerland

Little snow and lots of sun in winter

The effect of Sahara dust was reinforced by the fact that the winter of 2021/2022 was particularly sunny and snowfall was scarce.

This means “the glaciers somehow ran out of ‘food’ in the form of snow. In addition, the melting started very early this spring”, he noted.

Melting ice has formed 1,200 new lakes in formerly glaciated regions of the Swiss Alps since the middle of the 19th century. Around 1,000 of them still exist today, according to the study published by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag).

READ MORE: Climate change: Glacial melt in Switzerland has created 1,000 new lakes

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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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