Water Crisis

Alpine glaciers certain to shrink at least a third by 2050

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But if present trends continue, the ice volume will fall nearly 50%

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This glacier covers 86 sq km and holds 11 billion tonnes of ice. It is melting fast.

Even if global warming were to stop completely, the volume of ice in the European Alps will fall 34% by 2050.  If current trends continue, however, almost half the volume of ice will be lost.

By 2050, i.e. in 26 years’ time, we will have lost at least 34% of the volume of ice in the European Alps, even if global warming were to stop completely and immediately. This is the prediction of a new computer model developed by scientists from the Faculty of Geosciences and Environment at the University of Lausanne (UNIL), in collaboration with the University of Grenoble, ETHZ and the University of Zurich.

In this scenario, developed using machine-learning algorithms and climate data, warming is stopped in 2022, but glaciers continue to suffer losses due to inertia in the climate-glacier system. This most optimistic of predictions is far from a realistic future scenario, however, as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise worldwide.

In reality, more than half the volume of ice will disappear

Another more realistic projection from the study shows that, without drastic changes or measures, if the melting trend of the last 20 years continues, almost half (46%) of the Alps’ ice volume will actually have disappeared by 2050. This figure could even rise to 65%, if we extrapolate the data from the last ten years alone.

2050: the near future

Unlike traditional models, which project estimates for the end of the century, the new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, considers the shorter term, making it easier to see the relevance in our own lifetimes and thus encouraging action. How old will our children be in 2050? Will there still be snow in 2038, when Switzerland may host the Olympic Games?

These estimates are all the more important as the disappearance of kilometers of ice will have marked consequences for the population, infrastructure and water reserves.

“The data used to build the scenarios stop in 2022, a year that was followed by an exceptionally hot summer. It is therefore likely that the situation will be even worse than the one we present,” says Samuel Cook, lead author of the study.

Includes materials provided by the University of Lausanne