The Morteratsch glacier, the largest glacier of the Bernina massif

anselmi switzerland

© Francesco Anselmi / Contrasto

The valley glaciers, typical of the Alpine landscape, are some of the most sensitive testimonials of climate change and numerous studies show how they are drastically retreating at alarming rates.
The valley tongue of the Morteratsch, one of the main Swiss glaciers, is retreating by more than 20 metres a year with a loss of thickness of about 6 metres every summer. Similar conditions recorded in almost all of the glaciers monitored lead to an estimation that by the end of the century 80% of the ice currently on the Alpine chain could disappear completely.
The acceleration of glacial melting in the last century was caused by an increase in average temperatures in the Earth's atmosphere and by darkening, a phenomenon where glacier surfaces are blackened by an accumulation of impurities. Impurities come from the rocky walls above the glacial mass and a large part comes from the atmosphere filled with dark particles from engine combustion, industrial activity and fires. Like wearing black clothes in summer, darkening reduces the albedo of the ice, increasing melting induced by solar radiation.
A mountain environment stripped of ice in a few decades would not only be a grave loss for the landscape but would have dramatic effects on the entire water cycle. It is clear that the only sustainable strategy to preserve the glaciers in the near future is a drastic change in our development model to limit human impact on climate and on the landscape elements so closely connected to it.

Andrea Brenna