The summer of 2022 is likely to be a “perfect storm for glaciers” due to rising temperatures and a lack of winter snow, an expert warns.
Glaciers in the European Alps are becoming increasingly unstable and dangerous as rising temperatures linked to climate change awaken what have long been thought to be dormant, almost fossilized sheets of ice.
Italy baked through an early summer heat wave, and in the Italian Dolomites tragedy struck on Sunday when a glacier collapsed on the range’s highest peak – Marmolada – killing at least seven people.
Fourteen other people are still missing and authorities have warned it is unclear how many people were on the 3,300m mountain when the glacier gave way.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Monday linked the collapse to climate change.
The glacier’s collapse was “undoubtedly linked to the deterioration of the environment and the climatic situation”, Draghi said during a visit to the rescue operation’s headquarters in the Dolomites.
What caused a peak of the glacier to break off and rumble down the slope – at a speed estimated by experts at around 300 km/h (186 mph), sending huge chunks of ice, snow and boulders slamming on hikers – was not immediately known.
But tragedy struck a day after a record temperature of 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded at the top of the glacier, which has been rapidly melting in recent decades with much of its volume gone.
“Perfect storm for glaciers”
“This summer of 2022 is likely to be the perfect storm for glaciers,” said Giovanni Baccolo, environmental scientist and glaciologist at the University of Milan-Bicocca, noting a lack of snow in winter and a ferociously hot start to summer in Italy.
“No one could have expected a glacier like the Marmolada to react like this,” he told Reuters.
“It’s a kind of climate fossil, glaciers like the Marmolada are considered ‘placid’, they are expected to retreat.”
Baccolo said intrepid hikers heading into the mountains to escape the summer heat need to be careful where they venture because it “may no longer be enough to read the glacier signs that have been read up to now.” ‘now”.
Glaciers at high, steep elevations such as the Marmolada rely on sub-zero temperatures “to keep them stable”, said Poul Christoffersen, professor of glaciology at the University of Cambridge.
“But climate change means more and more meltwater, which releases heat that warms the ice if the water refreezes, or worse: lifts the glacier from the rock below and causes a sudden, unstable collapse. “, did he declare.
The Mediterranean basin, which includes southern European countries such as Italy, has been identified by United Nations experts as a “climate change hotspot”, likely to suffer, among other consequences, heat waves and water shortages.