Trift Glacier – Melt in the Bernese Alps

Many thanks to Peter Egger for sharing some superb images of how Trift Glacier in the Bernese Alps changed over an 8 year period. The first image here shows the glacier in July 2005, where the ice extended into a proglacial lake, and the lower half of the glacier was still attached to the top.

By the time the below image was taken in October of 2013, substantial changes had happened to the glacier. The upper icefall is greatly diminished, and the lower half of the glacier was little more than a static ice patch. Some evidence of lateral moraine are apparent, above the still existent pro-glacial lake.

The decline of Triftglacier is well documented, and has accelerated rapidly since 1998, and between 2006 and 2015 the retreat is estimated to be some 1.7km in planimetric extent – the following links show some of this research.

Saharan dust accelerating Alpine Glacier melt

View from the Gornergrat, August 2022

A covering of Saharan dust and sand is visible on glaciated areas at high elevation this year, transported over Europe by wind in the earlier part of the season, and shown in the pinkish tinge in the above photograph.

Sand and dust covering will accelerate ice melt, as it lowers the surface albedo (the reflectance of the surface) from a typical value of 0.9 for snow and ice. This phenomenon has been observed elsewhere in the European Alps by several scientists. For a selection of links see here:

Globe Echo: Saharan Sand Makes Glaciers Melt Faster

Gabbi et al, 2015: Impact of Saharan Dust and Black Carbon on Glacier Mass Balance

Harvard Gazette: Climate Change Affects Saharan Dust Storms

Summer 2022 – Heat At High Elevation

The Breithorn, August 2022

The summer of August 2022 has been particularly hot and dry in the Alps – for the first time in many years, skiing at Klein Matterhorn was suspended in early summer as a result of little to no snow. By the beginning of August, when these images were taken, the temperature was 8 degrees Celsius at 4000m, implying a 0 degree isotherm elevation of well above the tallest of the Alpine peaks. On the Breithorn, patches of bare rock on the summit path are clearly visible.

The Zermatt Valley, from Klein Matterhorn

The lack of summer snow cover at elevation is even more apparent in this image, looking towards Zermatt and the Gornergrat from Klein Matterhorn. Barely any snow or ice cover bar some isolated patches is present.

2022 will no doubt be one of the warmest years in the Alps on record, with warm dry winter followed by an even drier hot summer. Even in January in Grenoble, the 0 degree Isotherm was at 3000m elevation.

Shrinking Glaciers Part 2 – June 2022

June 21. An equinox, the summer solstice, estival solstice or midsummer. It not overly important what term you use, it is the day whereby one of Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt toward the Sun. It happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere (Northern and Southern). For the Alpine Glacier Project it forms a point whereby one can judge the onset of the summer ablation period with previous years. Something we’ve been doing for 50 years.

Today is June 21. “The longest day”. A day to enjoy the maximum amount of available daylight, but we are far from celebrating. Traditionally, summer and winter solstices helped mark the changing of the seasons. However, today’s meteorologists officially use temperature records instead to draw lines between the seasons. That said, this week alone, Yellowstone National  Park is closed due to a 1 in 500 year flood event, whilst Iran soared to 52.2°C (in the shade!) – one of the highest pre-solstice temperature readings ever. Our changing climate could not be more real. Yesterday Mawsynram in India recorded 1003.6mm of rain in 24 hours, whilst Pensicola, USA set another new all-time record high temperature of 40.56°C. And so it goes on.  Rainfall and temperature records broken frequently, globally. 

Here in Switzerland, the changing climate is having what can only be described as a catastrophic impact on the mass balance of glaciers. Minimal winter snow cover (which protects the ice through reflecting the increasingly powerful radiation from the sun) quickly melted, increasingly high temperatures melt ice higher up the mountains. As a result what we see today is a stark image. Snow cover and ice melt akin to mid-August, not mid-June!

Scale is lost in the mountains, Gornergletscher was once 500m thick. But let’s contrast a few images…

To show the difference in snow cover at this time of year, here we have 18th June 2019 and 18th June 2022. Both taken from the Gornergrat looking toward Grentz and Gorner glaciers and the Monte Rosa Massif.

June 2019 (Left), June 2022 (Right) from the Gornergrat

Let’s reflect and contrast 50 years looking from the Gornergrat toward the Theodulgletscher, which descends from the west side of the snowdomed capped Breithorn (4,164 meters). The picture on the left was taken in 1970, on the right in 2022. The loss of ice is significant, close to 1.2km of length loss with significant volumetric loss too.  

1972 (Left), 2022 (Right)