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Glacier keeps its cool under high-tech blanket

(Keystone)

The Andermatt ski-lift company has laid a synthetic carpet over 2,500 square metres of glacier in a unique experiment to ward off the effects of global warming.

The reflective high-tech material is designed to stop the Gurschen glacier from melting away beneath the resort’s upper cable-car station.

The glacier has dropped 20 metres over the past 15 years, forcing the lift company to construct a snow ramp on top of it to give skiers access to the runs.

Resembling giant strips of toilet paper, the polyester and polypropylene material was rolled out across the ramp to stop it melting during the summer.

If it proves successful, many other ski resorts in the Alps which also depend on rapidly shrinking glaciers, including Zermatt, Saas Fee and Engelberg, could follow Andermatt's example.

According to the Swiss Academy of Sciences, 75 of the 90 glaciers measured in the Swiss Alps over the past two years receded.

"There are many ski resorts using glaciers and many try to extend the winter season, so the material has quite exciting potential," said Frank Gross, CEO of Landolt, the Swiss company that developed and manufactures the fabric.

Ultra-violet

"The material’s resistance to ultra-violet rays will have to be monitored, but we’re confident it will have a lifespan of at least ten years," he told swissinfo.

Andermatt’s ski-lift company says the carpet is the only viable solution. By protecting the ramp, it spares the company having to wait for sufficient snowfall in autumn to rebuild it and it cuts down on labour and other costs.

The only thing the Andermatt Gotthard Sportbahnen will have to do if the experiment is successful is roll up the carpet and store it away for another year.

But the ski-lift company admits the measure is no answer to global warming.

"It’s only a short-term solution. We can’t change the world but we can do something about our problems on this mountain," said spokesman Urs Elmiger.

Nonsense

The Swiss branch of the WWF has described the experiment as "nonsense".

"Just imagine how much of this material you would need to cover an entire glacier," Adrian Stiefel, head of the environmental organisation's climate department, told swissinfo. "No one can afford to do that.

"You can't hide the problems of climate change under a blanket," he added.

The WWF maintains that such measures merely combat the symptoms of global warming and demonstrate the high economic cost of having to adapt to climate change.

Stiefel said the only effective means of stopping climate change was to drastically reduce CO2 emissions. To this end, he said resorts like Andermatt should become models of energy efficiency by lessening their dependence on fossil fuels.

The WWF believes there has to be a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent before 2050 to stop temperatures from rising any further.

Stiefel warned that "Andermatt won't have any glacier left" to protect, if action was not taken soon.

"Global warming is getting worse; to be effective, we would need to cover the entire country with carpet."

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Andermatt

In brief

The Gurschen glacier at the top of the Andermatt ski resort has lost 20 m of thickness over the past 15 years.

The ski lift company has covered 2,500 sq m of the top of the glacier with a synthetic fabric to stop it from melting.

Environmental organisations have criticised the move as an ineffective way of combating global warming.

end of infobox

Key facts

75 of 90 Swiss glaciers shrank during the period 2003-2004.
7 glaciers remained unchanged while 8 others grew slightly according to a study by Fribourg University.
The Trift glacier in the Bernese Oberland receded by 134m, while the Morteratsch glacier in southeastern Switzerland grew by 10m.
The study is based on data collected at 10 weather stations situated between 1,000m and 3,600m above sea level.

end of infobox

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