Melting World Heritage

One of the Swiss World Heritage sites is melting!

Switzerland has 11 properties inscribed under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, three of which are natural sites. One of these is the complex of Jungfrau – Aletsch in central Switzerland.  The description of the site states that it provides an outstanding example of the formation of the High Alps. The site includes the famous Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains and the largest glacier in Eurasia, the Great Aletsch Glacier.

Great Aletsch Glacier © Pro Natura Center Aletsch

Great Aletsch Glacier © Pro Natura Center Aletsch

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is currently discussing its latest report, and we expect them to state that most of the warming of the Earth’s surface since the 1950s is “extremely likely” — at least 95% probable — to be man-made.  One of the results of global warming is the melting of ice caps.

The Swiss Federal Office for the Environment measures a number of environmental indicators, and glacial retreat is one of them. The following graph shows how the Aletsch Glacier is reducing in size, and it also shows that the rate of retreat is accelerating.

Cumulative length change of Aletsch Glacier in metres.  Source: Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network

Cumulative length change of Aletsch Glacier in metres. Source: Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network

According to Pro Natura Switzerland, the glacier is currently retreating at a rate of a good 50 meters (164 feet) per year.

I recently went to have a look myself.   The sight of the glacier is truly a jaw-dropping experience. Photos cannot really do justice to the magnificence of the Aletsch Glacier, but here goes anyway.

aletsch

You can see on the photo that the ice flow was higher in the past, so let us hope that the IPCC is also right in its assessment that there is a slowdown in the pace of warming. However, a report by Lord Stern a few days ago warns about the risk of under-estimating the effects of global warming, and he reckons that the IPCC is playing down the problem.

Global warming and glacial melt will be with us for many more years to come.

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