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Climate change Scientist predicts 30% of Swiss glacier ice could be saved

People visit the Rhone Glacier

People visit the Rhone Glacier, which is protected in summer by special white blankets to prevent it from melting

(© KEYSTONE / URS FLUEELER)

Even if the 2015 Paris climate accord is effectively implemented, Switzerland’s smaller glaciers are still doomed, but up to one-third of all ice stored in larger glaciers could be saved, according to Swiss glaciologist Matthias Huss. 

“The smaller glaciers are lost,” Huss told the AZ Media Group in an interview on Friday. 

Many of the smaller glaciers have no snow coverage, which reflects the sun and heat and slows the melting process. A glacier that is not covered with snow on at least 60% of its surface area at the end of summer is condemned to death, the scientist from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) declared. 

He cites the example of the Pizol Glacier in canton St Gallen, which he says is too small to survive. 

Huss estimates that by 2100 a maximum of 30% of glacier ice in Switzerland could be saved if the Paris Accord  - which aims to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius - is implemented. 

+ Read more about what the Paris Accord entails here

The hot weather and drought conditions in Switzerland since mid-May have reduced any significant advantages glaciers may have enjoyed thanks to an extremely snowy 2017-2018 winter season. Huss says 2018 could prove to be even worse for glaciers than 2017, which was already one of the worst years. 

In previous warm years Swiss glaciers have benefits from small layers of new protective snow, but not this year, he explained. 

“The melting of glaciers has accelerated in several phases," continued Huss. Significant losses were recorded in the 1940s, followed by a “balanced phase” until 1985. Melting then accelerated sharply and has increased steadily since 2011. 

SDA-ATS/sb

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