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Melting glacier 'that divides the heart'

Melting glacier ‘that divides the heart’

The world I grew up in is changing at a speed I could never have imagined.

For Bertrand Gentisone, a mountain guide and specialist in biogeography, the scenery offered by the Mont Maine glacier Heartbreaking.

It was with his son, Jeremy, who finished his studies in glaciology, that we embarked on the small ascent to get to the bottom of this ice giant which, year after year, is losing its immensity.

The Gentizons offered us to visit this location, a place that Jeremy and his father frequent often. For mountaineering or hiking. But above all because space allows To realize the extent of the changes, rising temperatures depend on the melting of glaciers.

As you climb, you can see the numbers painted on the rocks: 2013, 2015, 2016. Each time, dozens of meters separate these signals indicating where the bottom of the glacier was on these dates.

Between 1956 and 2016, the Mont Maine glacier backwards 842 meters, according to studies by the Glamos group, which oversees the melting of glaciers in the country.

At the end of our ascent, on this very warm day of the autumn season, we found ourselves in front of great blocks of gray ice, the seracs detached from the main structure of the glacier. The drops flow profusely.

True, this vision is terrifying. It’s sad, it’s impressive. It hurts my heart, it’s true. »

Quote from Bertrand Gentisone, mountain guide and living geographer.

Swiss glaciers are doomed to climate change

accelerated melting

The Mont Maine glacier is far from the only one that has lost part of its surface area in recent decades.

Photographer Hilaire Dumoulin, originally from the mountainous Valais region, has traveled to the peaks of Switzerland in recent years to document this glacier retreat.

Photographer Hilaire Dumoulin.

Photographer Hilaire Dumoulin has spent several years capturing images that help understand the retreat of glaciers.Photo: Radio Canada/Raphaël Bouvier Auclair

Based on old photographs, some dating back to the 19th century, he photographed the same places, several decades apart.

I find it important to show what’s going on, because for some it doesn’t say muchHilaire Dumoulin was fired to explain his approach.

His findings are amazing. Many glaciers have seen their surface melt over the decades. The photographer even claims to have seen huge differences in the photos over a period of just a few years.

I’ve even seen pictures taken five years later and you can clearly see that the tongue of ice has disappeared. »

Quote from Hilaire Dumoulin, photographer

Researcher Matthias Haas of the University of Zurich is also monitoring the retreat of glaciers. With the passage of time, he even had to stop activities on some glaciers, due to a lack of material to study.

This year, he and his colleagues came to an unprecedented result. In 2022, glaciers in Switzerland will lose 6% of their area, while the loss was sometimes 2% or 3% in previous years.

We have never seen anything like this on the scale of Switzerlandhe explains.

This unprecedented decrease is due in particular to the low level of snow accumulated on the glaciers in the winter, which reduced their protection. Then the summer months were marked by record highs, which helped speed up the melt.

Obviously, climate change is what we’re seeing here. 2022 was an extreme year, but even so, this year would not have been possible without climate change. »

Quote from Matthias Hass is a researcher at the University of Zurich
The sun reflects off the Gornergrat glacier in Switzerland.

The sun reflects off the Gornergrat glacier in Switzerland.Photo: Radio Canada/Raphaël Bouvier Auclair

The consequences of melting glaciers extend beyond the landscape

In his disappearance, the ice revealed some of its secrets. In recent years, the bodies of long-lost hikers or mountaineers have finally been found.

This phenomenon, which affects the entire Alps, has geopolitical ramifications. The melting of the Theodule glacier has had an impact on the watershed line, the natural border between Switzerland and Italy. So the two countries were forced to redraw the course of their borders.

University of Zurich researcher Matthias Haas also warned that in the medium to long term, the phenomenon he is witnessing will have consequences for Switzerland’s energy supply.

In 2022, 76% of the electricity consumed in Switzerland will come from hydroelectric power stations. He went, Most of the water for hydropower comes from glaciersMatthias Haas recalls. This means that as glaciers melt, dams are less full, and there, that would certainly have consequences for hydroelectric production.

Researcher Matthias Haas.

Researcher Matthias Haas leads the Glamos research group, which studies the state of glaciers in Switzerland.Photo: Radio Canada/Raphaël Bouvier Auclair

The scientist also remembers that this phenomenon will have effects elsewhere on the European continent, beyond the Swiss borders. This is because some large rivers such as the Rhone, which crosses part of France, or the Rhine, which is an economically very important waterway in Germany, originate in the Swiss Alps.

We look at the Alps as the water tower of Europe […] The disappearance of glaciers will certainly have a fairly large impact on our rivers. »

Quote from Matthias Hass is a researcher at the University of Zurich

Going into the mountains, guides Jeremy and Bertrand Gentezon also observe the traces of melting glaciers.

There are large cracks that open up in a matter of months or even weeksdescribes Jérémie, who explains that hiking routes must therefore be reviewed frequently to adapt to this new relief and to avoid risks.

In an effort to slow down this phenomenon, some initiatives have been implemented in Switzerland, France and Italy, such as the installation of protective tarpaulins that make it possible to better cover the snow and limit its exposure to the heat of the sun.

A recent UNESCO report to which the University of Zurich contributed suggests that the solution lies primarily in climate action. According to the document, limiting warming to 1.5°C could save two-thirds of glaciers classified as world heritage.

Jeremy Gentisone believes, however, that it will be more difficult to reverse a trend that has emerged more particularly this year than ever before in his country.

But what we can do is really be aware of what is happening given the extent of the changes and try to figure out why those changes are happening. So, we realize that we are still an essential part of the problem. Then work on ithe adds.

Snow exposed to sunlight at the Mont Maine glacier.

The lack of snow and heat contributed to the melting of glaciers such as the Mont Maine River. Photo: Radio Canada/Raphaël Bouvier Auclair

In front of the gray ice, also called dead ice, clearly visible at the bottom of the Mont Maine glacier, only his father Bertrand Gentezon could make a remark on the change taking place in his country’s peaks.

Switzerland loses its identity with the loss of glaciers. It’s totally clear and it’s really amazing. We are the people of the Alps. What are the Alps without glaciers? We really don’t knowConcludes.

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