How a glacier melts

Scientists have dyed the melt water from the Plaine-Morte glacier to improve understanding of future water management under climate change. (SRF Einstein/

This content was published on December 12, 2014 - 00:00

A water tracing experiment was carried out on the Plaine Morte glacier above Crans-montana in canton Valais as part of the Swiss National Research Program NRP 61.

The research phase took place over three years and comprised 16 research projects around the theme of sustainable water management with the objective of collecting scientific data and developing methods for the management of Switzerland’s water resources. Results of the research programme will be presented in November 2014.

The experiment on the Plaine-Morte used traceable colour dyes that were diluted in water at three different drainage points of the glacier, to show where melt water flows and determine who benefits from this water and to what extent.

The results helped define hydrologic planning in the region. It is estimated by some researchers that by the end of the century glaciers will only be visible in pictures. At the moment, glaciers provide natural water reservoirs. Research shows that to prevent the severe consequences of summer droughts, glaciers will have to be substituted with manmade solutions.

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