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Alps: White Glimmer of Hope


Ice and snow have been receding in the Alps for years. At the beginning of December, the situation looked very different, even Esa was hoping for a good winter - unfortunately premature.

Enlarge image

Satellite image of the snow-covered Alps

Photo: Mmodified Copernicus Sentinel Data / ESA / CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The Alps were once forested even at high altitudes.

Compressed by the continental plates of Africa and Europe, the mountains reached their current height around 23 million years ago.

At that time there was no trace of the white glaciers that still characterize the mountain massif today.

The white splendor only arose when the climate changed about 2.6 million years ago and lower temperatures took hold.

At that time, a long process probably began: Precipitation collected in the form of snow and later condensed into glacial ice – it is unclear exactly when the glaciers were born.

Since the beginning of the last interglacial period around 11,500 years ago, the ice masses of the glaciers have always fluctuated slightly.

Depending on the climate, they sometimes ventured further into the valleys, sometimes they went back.

But since the end of the Little Ice Age in the middle of the 19th century there has only been one direction: the glaciers are disappearing.

Since the 1980s, the rate of ice loss has increased so much that glaciologists have serious concerns about the future of the white giants.

Cake crust sprinkled with powdered sugar

There are still almost 5000 of these ice tongues.

But in 2003 alone, five to ten percent of the ice melted.

In recent winters, less and less snow has fallen, which is one of the reasons why the glaciers are unable to build up as much new ice mass.

The last Alpine winter brought the lowest snow cover since 2001.

This December there was brief reason to hope for a trend reversal.

A lot of snow fell at the beginning of the month.

Sometimes there were chaotic conditions in South Tyrol with roadblocks and power failures, the danger of avalanches increased.

Train connections were interrupted at the Brenner Pass and the motorway was partially closed.

From above, the white splendor looked peaceful and much like one imagines the Alps to be in winter: like a cake crust sprinkled with icing sugar.

This is confirmed by an image taken by the earth observation satellite »Sentinel-3« on December 18, 2022 (see above).

"It shows the large snow cover, which hopefully bodes well for the coming year," writes the European space agency Esa.

From the tourism industry it was said that the snowfall and low temperatures promise a picture-perfect start in time for Christmas.

Weather is not climate

Perhaps space specialists and tourist marketing rejoiced a little too soon, however.

The snow cover in the Alps is again below average in many places these days, reports the German Alpine Association.

At the same time, the mountain specialists warn against careless tours off the slopes, there is a risk of avalanches.

We are currently dealing with the Christmas thaw.

A warm front ensures mild conditions up to high altitudes.

In the German part of the mountains, the already very thin snow cover is now getting even thinner.

The conditions in the rest of the Alps are not very different.

The prospects of a snowy winter, which would be good for the glaciers, have vanished.

Weather is not climate after all.


Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2022-12-27

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