The largest glacier in the Alps is visibly suffering the effects of global warming.
ETH researchers have now calculated how much of the Aletsch Glacier will still be visible by the end of the century. In the worst-case scenario, a couple patches of ice will be all that’s left.
Every year, it attracts thousands of visitors from around the world: as the largest ice flow in the Alps, the Great Aletsch Glacier is a major tourism draw in the Swiss region of Upper Valais, second only to the Matterhorn. In the summer, its meltwater plays a key role in providing sufficient water to the dry Rhone valley.
Yet as the climate becomes ever warmer, the massive glacier is suffering just as much as the Matterhorn, which is beginning to crumble. The Aletsch Glacier’s tongue has receded by about one kilometre since the year 2000, and scientists predict this trend will continue over the coming years. But how will things look for the Great Aletsch Glacier by the end of the century? How much of it will still be visible from, say, the nearby Eggishorn or the Jungfraujoch?
If things go badly, not much. This is the conclusion reached by Guillaume Jouvet and Matthias Huss from the research group of Martin Funk at the Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology (VAW) at ETH Zurich. In a detailed simulation, the two researchers have tested how the Aletsch Glacier will change over the coming years. They applied a 3D glacier model that allows them to map the dynamics of an individual glacier in detail. “The Aletsch Glacier’s ice movements are particularly complex: three massive ice flows coming down from the mountaintops converge at Konkordiaplatz, and then continue on together into the valley,” Huss explains.
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Image via Bild Matthias Huss, ETH Zurich