A recent report has revealed that Swiss glaciers have experienced a significant loss of 10% of their volume in just a span of two years. Scientists assert that this alarming trend is a direct consequence of climate breakdown resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. It has led to unusually hot summers and winters characterized by extremely low snow volume, ultimately accelerating the melting of glaciers. Surprisingly, the volume of ice lost during the scorching summers of 2022 and 2023 equals the amount lost between 1960 and 1990.
The analysis, conducted by the Swiss Academy of Sciences, underscores that 4% of Switzerland’s total glacier volume vanished within the current year. This constitutes the second-largest annual decline on record, with the most substantial drop taking place in 2022, resulting in a 6% decrease. This marked the most significant thaw that researchers have observed since they began taking measurements.
Disturbingly, some glaciers have seen their ice levels diminish to such an extent that experts have discontinued measurements altogether. Glacier Monitoring in Switzerland (Glamos), responsible for monitoring 176 glaciers, recently ceased measurements at the St Annafirn glacier in the central Swiss canton of Uri. They made this choice because the glacier had nearly completely melted away.
Matthias Huss, the head of Glamos, noted that only a remnant of dead ice remained. He attributed this alarming trend to a combination of climate change, which makes such extreme events more likely, and a convergence of unfavorable meteorological conditions. Huss warned that if this pace of ice loss persists, the trend of increasingly dire years will continue.
According to Huss, the disappearance of smaller glaciers is primarily due to the rapid rate of ice loss. To prevent Switzerland from losing its remaining ice, emissions must be brought under control. However, he warned that even if the world manages to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, projections suggest that merely a third of Switzerland‘s glacier volume will endure. This sobering reality suggests that all the smaller glaciers are set to disappear, and the larger ones will substantially shrink. Nevertheless, Huss emphasized the importance of preserving at least some ice in the highest Alpine regions and maintaining some glaciers to showcase to future generations.
Notably, the Swiss Alps experienced record-breaking warmth this year. In August, the peak melting month, the Swiss weather service reported a new record for the altitude at which precipitation freezes, reaching an unprecedented 5,289 meters (17,350 feet), surpassing the previous year’s record of 5,184 meters.
As a result of the melting ice, the mountain landscape is undergoing transformative changes. Huss has observed the formation of new lakes adjacent to glacier tongues for the first time in recorded history, as well as exposed bare rock emerging from diminishing ice. Furthermore, as ice sheets have diminished, they have revealed long-lost remains that were once encased in ice.
It is worth noting that Swiss records primarily extend back to 1960, with some data available dating back to 1914 for select glaciers.