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Melting glaciers endanger winter sports in Europe

Melting glaciers endanger winter sports in Europe

Image source: © davideasnicar / X
Marta Grzeszczuk,
12.04.2024 14:00

According to experts from Austria, alpine glaciers are at risk of disappearing within the next 40-45 years. They believe that the damage caused by the climate crisis is irreversible.

The Austrian Alpine Club (OeAV) has raised concerns about the alarming rate at which Alpine glaciers are shrinking. With over 500,000 members, OeAV is responsible for maintaining more than 234 alpine refuges in Austria and neighbouring countries, along with over 26,000 km of hiking trails. Additionally, the organisation produces detailed maps of key mountain areas in Austria.

Alpine glaciers are shrinking at a rapid rate

A video released on Euronews Green profile shows how one of Austria's glaciers has been retreating since 2020. The Pasterze, Austria's largest glacier, located in the Glockner mountain group in the southern province of Carinthia, has been shrinking at an unprecedented rate of 203.5m in recent years. Normally, glaciers shrink in summer and grow back in winter. However, due to the climate crisis, Alpine glaciers are not "recovering" in winter from the summer losses, resulting in a steady decrease in their size each year.

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We have previously reported how European ski enthusiasts have experienced particularly poor conditions this winter, with the season ending earlier than usual, especially for those who attempted skiing or snowboarding in the lower mountain resorts. It seems that the possibility of winter sports on glaciers in the Alps will also vanish soon.

Glaciers to disappear in Austria in 40 to 45 years

Of the 93 glaciers observed between 2022 and 2023, only one did not significantly shrink. The 79 glaciers measured both last year and the year before were, on average, 23.9 metres shorter than a year earlier, stated the OeAV annual report. This is the third-highest shrinkage rate in the club's 133 years of measurements. The other two have also occurred in the last seven years.

"There might be some remnants in shadowed locations - maybe at the Glockner glacier on the north-east side, some areas in the Oetztal valley. But de facto in 40 to 45 years, all of Austria will be pretty much ice-free," the head of the glacier measurement service, Andreas Kellerer-Pirklbauer, told Euronews reporters at a press conference in Salzburg.

Gerhard Lieb, co-chairman of the Austrian Alpine Club's glacier measurement service, proclaimed, "Time is up for Austrian glaciers."

Glaciers no longer have a chance to rebuild

Lieb explained in an interview with Euronews that only if snow and ice were to start forming again now could the glaciers at least maintain their current size.

He believes that "we can’t save the Austrian glaciers anymore, because the systems are too sluggish" and that "their disappearance in the coming decades is unstoppable." Building up reserves at the upper ends of glaciers so that they can stabilise takes decades.

Glaciers are enormous masses of ice that form as snow and ice accumulate over centuries and then slowly flow over land. Their melting is one of many clear signs of human-induced climate change. Glaciers across the world are retreating swiftly. According to experts in Switzerland, the country experienced the second-largest decline in glacier volume in a single year in 2023, with 4% of its total glacier volume disappearing. This is in addition to a 6% disappearance in 2022.

Source: Euronews Green

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