Rising temperatures making glaciers more unstable, scientists say

Glaciers in the European Alps are becoming more unstable and dangerous, as rising temperatures linked to climate change are reawakening what was long thought to be quasi-fossil ice sheets .

While Italy struggles during the early summer heatwave, attention has focused on the impact of drought on crops in the fertile Po Valley.

But further north in the Dolomites, a mountain range in northeastern Italy, tragedy struck Sunday when a glacier crashed into Mount Marmolada, killing at least six people. The mountain, reaching an elevation of more than 3,300 meters, is the highest mountain in the range.

“This summer of 2022 risks becoming the perfect storm for glaciers,” said Giovanni Baccolo, an environmental scientist and glaciologist at the University of Milano-Bicocca in Milan, Italy.

Baccolo notes that the lack of snow in the winter and the hot start of summer are contributing factors.

“No one would have expected a glacier like Marmolada to react like this,” he told Reuters. “It’s a climate fossil. Glaciers like Marmolada are considered mellow, they’re expected to retreat.”

According to Veneto regional governor Luca Zaia, temperatures in the normally freezing Marmolada hit 10 degrees Celsius on Saturday.

The huge mass of ice collapsed near Punta Rocca, on a route commonly used by hikers and climbers to reach the summit, alpine rescue units said.

Poul Christoffersen, professor in the department of Glaciology at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Elevated glaciers like Marmolada are often steep and rely on sub-zero cold temperatures to keep them stable.

He added: “But climate change means more and more water is melting, releasing heat that heats the ice if the water freezes, or even worse: lifting the glacier up from the ice below and causing unstable collapse”.

Baccolo said intrepid hikers up the mountain to escape the summer heat should be careful about where they venture out.

“The invitation I would like to send to those who are going to the high mountains this summer is to be a lot more careful,” he said. “The problem is that it may no longer be enough to read the signs from the glacier that have been read so far.”

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