Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Glacial retreat in the European Alps

25.06.2020

The ice masses in the Alps are dwindling: models suggest a potential loss of most glacial areas by the end of this century. Until now, however, no-one has drawn up a comprehensive picture of the changes occurring in the Alps. A team of researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) has now investigated changes to the area and height of all glaciers in the European Alps over a 14 year period in their recent study. The result: approximately 17 percent of the entire volume of the ice has been lost since the start of the new millennium. The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

Anyone who compares older pictures of the Alps with those taken today can see the impact climate change has had in the Alps. The changes are also tracked by ongoing field measurements at a comparatively high number of what are known as reference glaciers.


The Great Aletsch Glacier in summer 2019

FAU/Christian Sommer


Upper Grindelwald Glacier and Schreckhorn (back right) in the Bernese Alps

FAU/Christian Sommer

As they are mainly limited to the high Central Alps, however, this is not necessarily representative of the Alpine region as a whole. In order to paint a complete picture of glacial retreat in the Alps, a team of researchers from the Institute of Geography at FAU has for the first time measured changes to the area and height of all Alpine glaciers in France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy between 2000 and 2014.

Loss of 17 percent of the entire volume of ice

The result: Between 2000 and 2014, all glaciers in the Alps lost over 22 cubic kilometres of ice, equivalent to approximately 17 percent of the entire volume of ice in Alpine glaciers at the beginning of the 21st century. With the exception of the highest elevation in the central Alps, the ice is now melting even in the highest glacial areas.

The greatest losses, however, were recorded in the mountain ranges largely covered by glaciers in the Swiss Alps. The large valley glaciers in the Bernese Alps alone (Jungfrau-Aletsch region) lost a total of 4.8 gigatonnes in the period investigated with an average loss of ice thickness of 0.72 metres per year.

That is equivalent to almost five cubic kilometres in ice volume. Local melting rates were significantly higher in the glaciers at lower ranges. At the terminus of the Great Aletsch Glacier, the largest glacier in the Alps, researchers measured a thaw of more than 5 metres per year at the surface of the glacier.

At a regional level, the methodically consistent satellite measurements allow a direct comparison to be made for the first time between individual countries and mountain ranges in the Alpine region. The survey showed that the glacier tongues of the large valley glaciers of the Central Alps which reach down far into the valleys are melting at an astounding rate, whilst the relative loss of ice volume is lower in the lower foothills as fewer glaciers tend to be formed in the lower valley locations.

View from space

For their study, the researchers compared three dimensional terrain models based on data from the German radar satellite TanDEM-X and the German-American shuttle radar topography satellite missions, and combined them with changes to glacial expanses seen on optical images recorded by the NASA Landsat satellites.

A decisive advantage of this method is the combination of approximately simultaneous measurements of area and height. Similar studies from other mountainous areas across the globe generally assume a constant area covered by glaciers throughout the entire observation period.

This can lead to the actual mass balance being considerably underestimated, especially in highly dynamic glacier regions with high rates of retreat such as the European Alps.

Predicting the flow of meltwater runoff

The results of the study also provide important information for the economy, society and research. For example, glaciers in the Alps contribute directly to water supply and energy production in a number of countries.

Studies have shown that from a hydrological point of view, meltwater from Alpine glaciers accounts for a considerable portion of water runoff in large European river systems during the summer months. Earlier estimates indicated that glacial meltwater accounted for up to 20 percent of water runoff in the Rhone and Po during the summer months.

Christain Sommer from the Institute of Geography at FAU explains: ‘The data we have gathered can be used to accurately model the future retreat of Alpine glaciers, helping predict changes to meltwater runoff and hydrology in the Alpine region and beyond.’

Wissenschaftliche Ansprechpartner:

Further information:
Christian Sommer
Institute of Geography at FAU
chris.sommer@fau.de

Originalpublikation:

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-16818-0

Dr. Susanne Langer | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:
http://www.fau.de/

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA analyzes Tropical Cyclone Cristina's water vapor concentration
09.07.2020 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht In the Arctic, spring snowmelt triggers fresh CO2 production
06.07.2020 | San Diego State University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The spin state story: Observation of the quantum spin liquid state in novel material

New insight into the spin behavior in an exotic state of matter puts us closer to next-generation spintronic devices

Aside from the deep understanding of the natural world that quantum physics theory offers, scientists worldwide are working tirelessly to bring forth a...

Im Focus: Excitation of robust materials

Kiel physics team observed extremely fast electronic changes in real time in a special material class

In physics, they are currently the subject of intensive research; in electronics, they could enable completely new functions. So-called topological materials...

Im Focus: Electrons in the fast lane

Solar cells based on perovskite compounds could soon make electricity generation from sunlight even more efficient and cheaper. The laboratory efficiency of these perovskite solar cells already exceeds that of the well-known silicon solar cells. An international team led by Stefan Weber from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz has found microscopic structures in perovskite crystals that can guide the charge transport in the solar cell. Clever alignment of these "electron highways" could make perovskite solar cells even more powerful.

Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity. During this process, the electrons of the material inside the cell absorb the energy of the light....

Im Focus: The lightest electromagnetic shielding material in the world

Empa researchers have succeeded in applying aerogels to microelectronics: Aerogels based on cellulose nanofibers can effectively shield electromagnetic radiation over a wide frequency range – and they are unrivalled in terms of weight.

Electric motors and electronic devices generate electromagnetic fields that sometimes have to be shielded in order not to affect neighboring electronic...

Im Focus: Gentle wall contact – the right scenario for a fusion power plant

Quasi-continuous power exhaust developed as a wall-friendly method on ASDEX Upgrade

A promising operating mode for the plasma of a future power plant has been developed at the ASDEX Upgrade fusion device at Max Planck Institute for Plasma...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Contact Tracing Apps against COVID-19: German National Academy Leopoldina hosts international virtual panel discussion

07.07.2020 | Event News

International conference QuApps shows status quo of quantum technology

02.07.2020 | Event News

Dresden Nexus Conference 2020: Same Time, Virtual Format, Registration Opened

19.05.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Porous graphene ribbons doped with nitrogen for electronics and quantum computing

09.07.2020 | Physics and Astronomy

Record efficiency for printed solar cells

09.07.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Rock 'n' control

09.07.2020 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>