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Switzerland has lost 10% of its glaciers in 2 years, research reveals

Glaciers across the entire country were affected, with those in southern and eastern Switzerland melting almost as much this year as in the record year of 2022.

Two years of extreme weather have wiped out 10 per cent of Swiss glaciers, new research reveals.

The biggest decline since measurements began was seen in 2022, followed by the second biggest this year, the Swiss Academy of Sciences (SCNAT) and Glacier Monitoring Switzerland (GLAMOS) announced today.

“Swiss glaciers are melting faster and faster,” says SCNAT.

“The acceleration is dramatic: we have lost as much ice in two years as between 1960 and 1990.”

A severe lack of winter rain in the Alps combined with very warm temperatures contributed to record-low snowfall and the massive loss of ice, according to the report.

In early February, snowfall measurements at 1,000 metres above sea level rose slightly above those seen in the less snowy winters of 1964, 1990 and 2007. But in the second half of the month, they plummeted to record lows, reaching only around 30 per cent of the long-term average.

At 2,000 metres, more than half of the automated stations measured new 25-year minimum records.

Several metres of melting were measured in southern Valais and the Engadin Valley at a level above 3,200 metres, an altitude at which glaciers had until recently remained stable.

In the spring, the situation briefly returned to normal, according to the report.

But dry and very warm weather in June caused the snowpack to melt up to four weeks earlier than usual.

Summer 2023 was the world’s hottest since records began.

From August through to September, the Swiss weather service had to climb to a record altitude of almost 5,300 metres to find the zero-degree ‘freezing point’ or isotherm.

This is the threshold between air layers with temperatures above 0°C at lower altitudes and those with temperatures below freezing at higher altitudes. The previous record was set on 25 July last year at 5,184 metres.

As Switzerland sweltered through a heatwave, the few summer snowfalls melted quickly, failing to strengthen the glaciers, according to SCNAT.

After losing 6 per cent of their volume in 2022, Switzerland’s glaciers have melted by another 4 per cent so far in 2023.

Researchers say that two consecutive years of extreme weather have led to glacier tongues – narrow parts of glaciers that extend into a body of water – collapsing and the disappearance of many smaller glaciers in Switzerland. Measurements of the St Annafirn glacier in the canton of Uri were suspended as a result.

Glaciers across the entire country were affected, with those in southern and eastern Switzerland melting almost as much this year as in the record year of 2022.

This year the average ice thickness loss in southern Valais and the Engadin Valley is up to three metres – significantly higher than the values recorded in the hot summer of 2003.

Although more snow settled in the winter between the Bernese Oberland and Valais, the area still saw its ice thin by over two metres – an “extremely high” loss.

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