Germany only has four glaciers left as climate change melts Alpine ice

Germany lost one of its few remaining glaciers this summer as exceedingly warm weather ate away Alpine ice at a faster pace than feared, a scientific report released on Monday showed.

A hiker photographs the remnants of the Northern Schneeferner Glacier on the Zugspitzplatt in July.
A hiker photographs the remnants of the Northern Schneeferner Glacier on the Zugspitzplatt in July. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

The Bavarian Academy of Sciences said the state’s Southern Schneeferner had lost its official status as a glacier due to rapid melting of its once sprawling ice sheet.

“The Schneeferner’s ice thickness shrank significantly in large swathes and in most places no longer measures even two metres (6.5 feet),” the academy said in its latest findings.

It said even the thickest spot was now diminished to less than six metres compared to around 10 metres in 2018. The surface area of the glacier halved during the same period to about one hectare.

READ ALSO: Why it’s a bad year for Germany’s Alpine glaciers 

“That leads us to conclude that the remaining ice will completely melt away in the next one to two years,” the academy said.

It said that the dramatic shrinkage meant that the periodic measurements carried out by the academy since 1892 would now be suspended.

The loss means Germany has only four remaining glaciers: Northern Schneeferner and Hoellentalferner on its highest mountain, the Zugspitze, and Blaueis and Watzmann in the Berchtesgaden Alps.

Rapid glacier melt in the Alps and elsewhere, which experts say is being driven by climate change, has been increasingly closely monitored since the early 2000s.

Bavaria’s environment ministry said last year in a bombshell report that Germany could lose its last glaciers within the decade as climate change gathered pace.

Scientists had previously estimated the glaciers would be around until the middle of the century.

A global study released in April 2021 found nearly all the world’s glaciers are losing mass at an ever-increasing pace, contributing to more than a fifth of global sea level rise this century.

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Munich airport forced to close runway due to climate protest

Activists from the 'Last Generation' group glued themselves to a taxiway at Munich airport on Thursday, forcing the closure of at least one runway for approximately 45 minutes.

Munich airport forced to close runway due to climate protest

According to German media reports, around mid-morning a handful of climate activists managed to access the area and stick themselves to the tarmac in the northern part of the airport. 

The demonstration resulted in the closure of one of the airport’s two runways for several minutes, a spokesperson told BR on Thursday.

However, security were able to quickly break up the demonstration and the re-routing of flights to the other runway meant there were only minimal delays to scheduling. 

The activists have since been taken into custody and flight operations have returned to normal, the spokesperson said.

According to the airport, the activists also tried to enter the area on the south side of the airport, but were prevented from doing so by the police.

At around 10:30am, a video posted on Twitter appeared to show activists on the runway surrounded by police. 

Police in the Upper Bavaria district and federal police at the airport confirmed a “major police operation” at the airport when asked by BR. 

‘Incident’ at BER 

As reports of the protest emerged, the activist group ‘Last Generation’ claimed responsibility for the demonstration on Twitter and indicated that a similar demo would be carried out at the Berlin-Brandenburg airport (BER),

“We are always ready for constructive talks, like yesterday with the Bavarian Minister of the Interior. But what we need in the face of the looming climate hell are actions and not just empty words,” spokesperson Aimée van Baalen said in a statement.

According to the group’s press release, “several protesters also found their way onto the Berlin BER airport site”.

But the airport said the protest had been intercepted. 

A spokesperson for BER told The Local: “We are able to confirm there was an incident at BER Airport today. Trespassers went into the security area. The authorities arrived on-site immediately. Today, so far air travel was not affected by any means.”

The news comes just a few weeks after climate activists managed to ground flights at BER airport for a full two hours, resulting in major delays throughout the day.

Passengers present on flights heading to BER confirmed to The Local that some had been forced to turn around and return to their destination, including one flight that had been heading to Berlin from Copenhagen.

Other flights that were unable to land were forced to circle the airport for more than an hour.

READ ALSO: Flights disrupted as climate activists blockade Berlin Airport runway

Last Generation has carried out a series of increasingly eye-catching stunts in Germany over the past few months, drawing criticism from politicians.

The activists’ “criminal” acts had “nothing to do with legitimate protest”, Transport Minister Volker Wissing said in a statement.

“A democracy decides on the basis of majorities and does not allow itself to be blackmailed,” Wissing said.

In October, members of the group threw mashed potatoes over a glass-covered Claude Monet painting in Potsdam and glued themselves to an exhibition of a dinosaur skeleton at Berlin’s Natural History Museum.

The government has warned climate activists not break the law, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz describing the stunts as “misguided”.