Glaciers in Central Europe have been melting faster than ever before, reaching their highest rates of disappearance since records began, according to a report published by the Swiss Commission for Cryospheric Observation (SCC) of the Swiss Academy of Sciences on Thursday.
The SCC report said Switzerland’s glaciers have lost 10% of their volume in just two years of extreme heat.
The glaciers lost a record 6% of their volume in 2022 and 4% in 2023. Up until now, years with an ice loss of 2% were described as “extreme.”
According to the data in the report, as much ice was lost in the last two years alone as was lost in the three decades between 1960 and 1990.
Consecutive years of low winter snowfall and high summer temperatures have led to the disintegration of glacier tongues, it added. At the same time, many small glaciers have disappeared.
Earlier this year, an EU climate report said 2022 had the most Alpine glacier retreat of any year.
What is behind the record melting rate?
In the south and east of Switzerland, the rate of glacier melting in 2023 almost matched the record rate from 2022.
An average ice melt of 3 meters was recorded at altitudes above 3,200 meters, far more than was recorded during the unusually hot summer of 2003. That is an altitude at which glaciers were in equilibrium until recently.
The situation has been exacerbated by low snowfall. The warm winter at the end of 2022 into 2023 left the measuring sites with much lower snow coverage than usual.
Conditions were slightly different at altitudes of over 1,000 meters. In the first half of February, snow coverage was somewhat higher than it had been in the low-snow winters of 1964, 1990 and 2007, but this changed in the second half of the month when depths dropped to new record lows and were around just 30% of the long-term average.
In spring, the situation briefly returned to normal. However, the dry and very warm June caused the snow to melt two to four weeks earlier than usual. The third warmest summer since measurements began and temperatures at times hitting the limit of zero degrees until September were responsible for the fact that isolated summer snowfalls mostly melted quickly doing little to help the glaciers.
Edited by: Alex Berry