As Glaciers Melt In The European Alps, A Famed Austrian Peak Is Nearly Ice-Free

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"As Glaciers Melt In The European Alps, A Famed Austrian Peak Is Nearly Ice-Free"

by Bob Berwyn, via Summit County Citizens Voice

In yet another sign of how quickly global warming is eating away at glaciers in the European Alps, the Austrian Alpine Club is reporting that the summit cross high on the 3,660-meter Grossvenediger in Austria came close to toppling off its podium this summer.

The permanent snow and ice that helped hold the monument in place for decades melted away in the summer heat, with several feet of ice vanishing just in the past few months. A mountain guide arriving at the summit last week discovered that the cross was close to falling over, with potential risks to summit visitors.

A mountain rescue crew and other workers temporarily re-anchored the cross to the remaining ice with steel cables, but later decided to take it down once again. It will be remounted on solid rock.

Austrian media is reporting that, up until very recently, it would have been impossible to use the bare rocks at the summit as an anchor point. The permanent snow and ice that has covered the mountain’s peak for at least a century has just vanished within the past few weeks, according to Friedl Steiner, head of the local rescue group, who attributed the melting to climate change.

The U.S. Geological Survey has documented shrinking and vanishing ice fields in the Rocky Mountains with this extraordinary photo project.

Global warming deniers will try to tell you that glaciers have been melting since the end of the last ice age, but the rate of melting at most glaciers now far exceeds the background rate that could be expected as part of natural climate variations.

Glacier melting has accelerated in the European Alps since 1980, and 10 to 20 percent of glacier ice in the Alps has been lost in less than two decades. Half the volume of Europe’s Alpine glaciers has disappeared since 1850.

Thinning and melting rates in Alaskan glaciers have more than doubled just in the past 10 years.

African glaciers have declined by 60 to 70 percent since the 1900s, and most Pacific glaciers have also declined, with the exception of some of New Zealand’s ice fields, where increased precipitation has helped boost glacier growth.

Bob Berwyn is Editor of the Summit County Citizens Voice. This piece was originally published at the Citizens Voice and was reprinted with permission.

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6 Responses to As Glaciers Melt In The European Alps, A Famed Austrian Peak Is Nearly Ice-Free

  1. John Mashey says:

    Unsurprisingly, the Swiss have an excellent glacier website, with measurements going back to 1880 for many.

    See especially:
    http://glaciology.ethz.ch/messnetz/lengthvariation.html

    http://glaciology.ethz.ch/messnetz/massbalance.html

    and
    http://glaciology.ethz.ch/messnetz/glacierlist.html

    Click on examples to see differences.
    For instance:
    http://glaciology.ethz.ch/messnetz/glaciers/gauli.html 6.6km glacier falls off cliff in last decade

    http://glaciology.ethz.ch/messnetz/glaciers/aletsch.html 24km Grosser Aletsch takes longer, but even it has accelerated

  2. Bob… Just a small note for your excellent article…

    I think it’s important to say that natural climate variation would be pushing glaciers toward slow growth, at this point. Not rapid melt.

    Climate change deniers have falsely identified the trend as toward melting since the last ice age. This was true until about 6,000 years ago when the Earth very slowly began to grow cooler again. Given the radiation balance, Earth should be slowly sliding into its next ice age. That natural process, however, has been shoved aside by the powerful force of human greenhouse gas emissions.

  3. “…The permanent snow and ice that has covered the mountain’s peak for at least a century has just vanished within the past few weeks…”

    This is an analog for what is likely to happen to the Arctic ice cap one September soon. I think we will be shocked at how quickly it goes. Anyone reading this who is not collecting Social Security–and many who are–will see it, I’m afraid.

    Then it won’t be just a cross that falls. It’ll be seasonal weather as we now know it, and with it, perhaps Christianity as we now know it. Will not such a profound alteration of nature, the very expression of God, shake faith to its core? For some, it will be a sign of divine wrath. These passionate believers will be moved to redress the insult to their god, for surely their god will not have abandoned them but for some human abomination that must be rectified.

  4. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    Climbers have been aware of global warming for a long time. It’s a fact of life that climbs that were once relatively safe (i.e., predictable) are now hazardous from falling rock and debris flows.

  5. rjs says:

    do you know that the thinkprogress.org/climate feed is including a conoco phillips video ad at the end of each of your posts?

  6. ColoradoBob says:

    Aug. 25. 2012

    Unprecedented snow melt and heat in the European Alps

    The recent heat wave in Europe has especially been anomalous at higher altitudes resulting in some of the highest Alpine peaks in Europe being snow-free for the first time on record including the iconic peak Matterhorn.

    Early snow melt and record temps at mountain-top stations in the Alps

    On August 19th the temperature at Jungfraujoch, Switzerland (the highest railway station in Europe) reached 12.8°C (55.0°F) the warmest temperature ever measured at this site where records began in 1937. This observatory is located at an elevation of 3580m (11,745’) just above the famous railway station.

    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/weatherhistorian/comment.html?entrynum=87#commenttop