Events like the collapse of a glacier on Marmolada mountain, which killed at least seven people, are likely to become more frequent as the planet warms, according to scientists who spend their lives scanning the ice on the planets. mountains.
With this particular glacier, experts pointed to the scorching heat wave in Italy as a factor, as it is likely to have melted large amounts of ice.
Walter Milan, spokesperson for the National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps, commented on how hot it was. He noted that temperatures in recent days on the peak had exceeded 10C (50F). “It’s extreme heat” for the peak, he said. “Obviously, it’s something abnormal.”
Experts from Italy’s National Research Council say the glacier will no longer exist in the next 25-30 years and much of its volume has already been lost.
Professor Jonathan Bamber, director of the Bristol Glaciology Center at the University of Bristol, said: “The Dolomites in Italy, where this tragic accident happened, experienced drought throughout the winter with very little snowfall. Combined with the exceptionally high temperatures in the region during the summer, the glaciers are melting rapidly. The section that broke off was part of a hanging glacier with seracs or ice cliffs that become particularly unstable in hot conditions like those in the Dolomites right now.
This story will become more familiar in the years to come, as these conditions are reflected in the mountain ranges.
Glaciologist Professor Poul Christoffersen from the University of Cambridge said: “The collapse of the Marmolada glacier is a natural disaster directly linked to climate change. High altitude glaciers such as the Marmolada are often steep and depend on cold temperatures below zero degrees Celsius to keep them stable. But climate change means more and more meltwater, which releases heat that warms the ice if the water refreezes, or worse: lifts the glacier from the rock below and causes a sudden, unstable collapse. Catastrophic glacier collapses like this are becoming more common.
We know our planet is warming and the ice around the globe is melting, but how warmer temperatures affect ice structures on mountains is complex, with multiple factors making glaciers weaker and more likely to cause melting. deadly avalanche.
Researcher Jacques Mourey works at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, where he studies the impact of climate change on sport and nature tourism in the mountains.
The heatwave may have been the trigger for the avalanche, but the longer-term impact of climate change likely weakened the glacier to the point that it collapsed under the pressure, he said.
“When the glacier melts, it means there is water melting to the bottom of the glacier, when it gets to the bottom of the rock, it causes the ice to slide and this causes an avalanche,” he said. -he explains.
“It was probably the trigger but if you look at the pictures you can see that there is a big crack in the upper part that has collapsed. The fact that there is a crack, it shows that the upper part at the front was not connected to the lower part.If there hadn’t been a crack, nothing probably would have happened.
He said this indicated the glacier had likely been weakened by warmer temperatures.
“As it gets hotter and hotter, the ice becomes less and less strong, it weakens. If you take ice at -8°C, if you try to break it, it will be much more difficult than breaking ice at exactly 0°C. »
Due to the weakening of structures on the mountains, those who climb are increasingly taking their safety into their own hands, he said.
“We have already shown that certain areas have become too dangerous or too difficult for mountaineers to access, climate change is already having a real impact on mountaineering,” added Mourey.