EUROPE’S ALPS MELTING AWAY

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EUROPE’S ALPS MELTING AWAY

 user 2006-04-05 at 11:44:00 am Views: 67
  • #14940

    ‘Major melt’ for Alpine glaciers
    Europe’s Alps could lose three-quarters of their glaciers to climate change during the coming century.
    That is the conclusion of new research from the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) in Zurich.
    Scientists
    base their conclusion on forecasts of temperature and precipitation
    changes in a new computer model of Alpine glaciation.
    Glaciers are crucial in providing fresh drinking water, and are also key for tourism, irrigation and hydro-power.
    There is already strong evidence of a major ongoing melt.
    In
    the 1850s, according to WGMS data presented at the European Geosciences
    Union (EGU) annual meeting in Vienna, nearly 4,474 sq km of the Alps
    were glaciated.
    By the 1970s, the area covered had fallen to just under 2,903 sq km, and in 2000, it was down to 2,272 sq km.
    “From 1850 to the 1970s, there is an average loss of 2.9% per decade,” WGMC’s Michael Zemp told EGU delegates.
    “From the 1970s until 2000 it is 8.2% per decade, and we see most of that increase since 1985,” he said.
    Warm projections
    As temperatures rise, the minimum altitude at which glaciers form also rises.
    To some extent that can be mitigated by changes in precipitation; more snow in winter will help glaciers accumulate more ice.
    The
    WGMS has developed a computer model which calculates what projected
    temperature and precipitation changes for the Alps will mean for the
    glaciation altitude.
    According to the OCCC, a national Swiss
    scientific grouping, summers are likely to get warmer by about 3C
    before the end of the century, and precipitation is likely to increase
    by about 10%.
    “The summer temperature increase is 3C, which is very
    bad for glaciers,” Dr Zemp told the BBC News website, “and the annual
    precipitation increases, which creates a bit better conditions for
    glaciers.
    “You get a rise of 340m in the level that enables glaciation.”
    Across the Alps, this would mean a loss of 75% in the glaciated area.
    Summer needs
    This is only one projection for future Alpine climate, albeit one endorsed by an august scientific panel.
    Summers could be cooler, winters could see higher snowfall.
    But, commented Michael Zemp: “Even a rise of just 1C would see a loss of 40%.
    “And
    even if you halted climate on today’s level, glaciers would continue to
    retreat because of very bad years in the last two decades.”
    Melting of glaciers could be serious news for people living in or near the Alps.
    They
    act as freshwater reservoirs, storing winter snowfall and releasing it
    over the summer, when it is most needed for drinking and agriculture.
    Without them, the stored water would descend in a rush in spring, as soon as the snow began to melt