The scorching heat waste that roasted half of Europe last month has since moved north, where it is destroying the Greenland ice sheet. Due to the excessive heat, Europe’s coldest regions have also been affected.
According to the findings from the Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network (GLAMOS), Swiss glaciers showed a high melt rate during the last heatwave, which occurred in July, and another heatwave that occurred in June.
According to Matthias Huss, a glaciologist with Swiss University ETH Zurich and the head of GLAMOS, the nation’s glaciers lost about 800 million metric tons of ice during the two recent heat waves alone.
The estimates are still initial, said Huss. It is based on an early analysis of the on-site measurements at specific sites, combined with a model that measures the measurements to estimate the total ice depletion throughout the country. A more detailed study will follow at the end of the summer, which will calculate the season’s collective losses and compare them to previous summers. The result already suggested that the losses this year have been abnormally rapid.
Other regions are also affected.
During the winters, the region experienced an above-average snowfall. The glaciers started the summers with a high level of snow cover and were stable as compared to previous seasons, which have reported strong losses. But once the heatwave struck, the snow rapidly started to melt away.
“Now, because of these two heatwaves, we have tracked very fast downward,” Huss said. “And we are now at the average of the last 10 years, or even already a bit below.”
Across the European mountains, other regions are also being affected by the heat this summer. The Tignes Ski Resort in French Alps declared at the end of July that the Grande Motte Glacier is no longer safe for skiers after the heat waves. The most impressive changes have been observed at the region’s largest glaciers. Aletsch Glacier, the largest glacier in the Alps, has retreated by nearly 2 miles since 1870.
Further studies have predicted similarly dire consequences for mountain glaciers in other parts of the globe, including the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas. Summers like this one, with excruciating heat waves and excessive melting of the glaciers, only intensify the problem.
“Now we are really seeing almost every year another extreme year,” Huss said. “And this is what is actually a problem.”