The Alps’ glaciers are becoming increasingly unstable and dangerous as rising temperatures related to climate change revive what were previously thought to be dormant, nearly fossilised sheets of ice.
Italy has been sweltering in an early summer heatwave, with emphasis focused on the impact of drought on crops in the rich Po Valley. more info
In the Dolomites, disaster struck on Sunday when a glacier fell on the Marmolada, the mountain range’s highest peak at over 3,300 meters, killing at least six people. more info
“This summer 2022 risks being the perfect storm for glaciers,” said Giovanni Baccolo, an environmental scientist and glaciologist at Milan-Bicocca University, pointing to a lack of winter snow and a scorching start to summer.
“Nobody could have expected a glacier like the Marmolada to react like this,” he told Reuters. “It is a kind of climatic fossil, glaciers like the Marmolada are considered ‘placid’, they are expected to just retreat.”
Temperatures on the typically chilly Marmolada reached 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday, according to Veneto regional governor Luca Zaia.
According to the Alpine rescue team, a massive block of ice crashed at Punta Rocca, on the route normally used by hikers and climbers to reach the top.
“High elevation glaciers such as the Marmolada are often steep and relying on cold temperatures below zero degrees Celsius to keep them stable,” explained Poul Christoffersen, professor of glaciology at the University of Cambridge.
“But climate change means more and more meltwater, which releases heat that warms up the ice if the water re-freezes, or even worse: lifting up the glacier from the rock below and causing a sudden unstable collapse,” he continued.
Those brave hikers venturing into the mountains to escape the summer heat, according to Baccolo, should exercise caution.
“The invitation I want to make to those who go to the high mountains this summer is to use much more caution,” he added. “The problem is that it may no longer be enough to read the signs from the glacier that have been read so far.”