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Glaciology Swiss scientists X-ray Eiger glacier

Hikers pass the Eiger glacier above the Kleine Scheidegg

Hikers pass the Eiger glacier above the Kleine Scheidegg

(Keystone)

Using a new technique, researchers at the University of Bern have X-rayed the Eiger glacier. This gives them a better picture of the rock beneath the ice and changes caused by climate change. 

The physicists and geologists installed special detectors in the tunnel of the Jungfrau railway. This enabled them to “peer under the glacier” and reconstruct the basis of the firn (granular snow on top of a glacier) in 3D and to a depth of 80 metres. 

The scientists published their findings in a recent edition of science journal Geophysical Research Letters. 

The glacier “X-rays” show for example how the steep rock face must be the result of lateral erosion because the glacier moves parallel to the rocks, the scientists said. 

“We can thereby show for the first time on an active glacier how ice grinds down the rock,” said study leader Fritz Schlunegger. 

The frequency of rock falls will increase as the ice recedes, the scientists warned, pointing out that since the region was popular with tourists, and visitor centres as well as a research station had been built on nearby rocks, such changes must be closely monitored.

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