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Volunteers strip off to fight climate change

Feeling the cold: temperatures hovered around ten degrees during the glacier shoot Keystone

Hundreds of naked people formed a "living sculpture" on Switzerland's Aletsch Glacier on Saturday, aiming to raise awareness about climate change.

The photo shoot by New York artist Spencer Tunick, famous for his pictures of nude gatherings in public settings worldwide, was designed to draw attention to the effects of global warming on Switzerland’s shrinking glaciers.

“The melting of the glaciers is an indisputable sign of global climate change,” said environmental group Greenpeace, which co-organised the event. It said most Swiss glaciers would disappear by 2080 if global warming continues at its current pace.

The organisation added that it hoped the event and the pictures would make politicians and the population aware of looming dangers as average temperatures rise.

“We need to act now before it is too late,” said Greenpeace campaign director Markus Allemann. He pointed out that alpine glaciers had already lost one third of their surface and half of their mass over the past 150 years.

The organisers said they wanted to establish a symbolic relationship between the vulnerability of the melting glacier and the human body.

The event, which followed Tunick’s recent shoots in London, Mexico City and Amsterdam, was designed to minimise any impact on the environment, Greenpeace said.

The participants, all volunteers recruited earlier this summer by the environmental organisation, had to walk about four hours to reach the site of the shoot.

Temperatures hovered around ten degrees Celsius while the photos were being taken, but nobody spent much time with their clothes off. A first picture was taken with 300 volunteers standing beside the glacier, before 600 people moved for another shot onto the ice itself.

The 40-year-old photographer has made a name for himself in recent years for his pictures of large groups of naked people, mostly in urban environments.

His first shoot was in New York in 1992, but he has also taken his signature photos in Switzerland in the past, including in Basel in 1999, Fribourg in 2001 and at the national exhibition in Neuchâtel in 2002.

swissinfo with agencies

The Aletsch Glacier, the largest glacier in the Alps, covers more than 120 square kilometres. It descends round the south of the Jungfrau into the valley of the Rhone River.

It is part of a natural World Heritage site first inscribed in 2001 and recently expanded by Unesco.

According to the UN organisation, the site provides an outstanding example of the formation of the High Alps. It features a wide diversity of ecosystems, including successional stages due particularly to the retreat of glaciers resulting from climate change.

It is one of seven Swiss sites with World Heritage listing, that also include the Old Town of the capital, Bern, the convent of St Gallen, the castles of Bellinzona, the monastery of Mustair, Monte San Giorgio and the Lavaux vineyards.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR