Glaciologists make research breakthrough

Swiss glaciers will continue to retreat drastically in the next few decades, even if global warming is halted, researchers in Zurich have found.

This content was published on December 2, 2010 - 16:34 and agencies

The Federal Institute of Technology described in a press release on Thursday how scientists developed a model which shows the impact of changes in temperature and precipitation on the length and volume of glaciers.

They tested the model on 12 Swiss glaciers for which they had measurements of length and volume going back for more than 100 years.

Having found that the data produced by their model corresponded closely to the actual measurements, they then used it to make forecasts as to what would happen to the glaciers under various scenarios.

The results show that the glaciers will continue to melt, even if the climate does not grow warmer. The researchers say this is because glaciers take decades or even centuries to react to changes in the climate.

Large, flat glaciers melt particularly fast. If nothing changed, the Great Aletsch glacier would be four kilometres shorter and lose a third of its volume in 100 years. But if the climate warms as predicted, it will shrink even more.

The study shows that steep glaciers will do better: if the climate remains constant, they could stabilise after a few decades.

The new model makes it possible for the first time to use changes in length to determine changes in volume.

The research is published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

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