Giant Alpine glacier poised to break off: Italy

Giant Alpine glacier poised to break off: Italy

Italy has closed roads and issued warnings amid fears that part of the Mont Blanc massif glacier could break off because of global warming.

Around 250,000 cubic metres of ice at an altitude of around 3,800m on the Grandes Jorasses peak (pictured) are at risk of breaking away from the Planpincieux glacier on the Italian side of Europe’s tallest peak, observers warn. 

Mountain refuges were evacuated amid reports that the glacier, which represents about a fifth of the total mass of ice, was moving by about 50cm per day as a result of the hot weather. 

The two heatwaves this summer and warm September are said to have accelerated the melt speed.

A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said glaciers, outside Greenland and Antarctica but including Europe, are losing 220 billion tonnes of ice per year. The scientists said glacier melt was happening faster than before and accelerating.

Stefano Miserocchi, the mayor of the ski resort of Courmayeur, ordered the closure of roads in the Val Ferret. He said no villages were at risk, just a few holiday chalets.

“There are no models to tell us if it will fall entirely or in pieces. We need to keep an eye on the monitoring,” said Miserocchi.

Environmental activists in Switzerland held a “mourning ceremony” on the evaporating Pizol glacier in the country’s Glarus Alps on Monday. The glacier has lost around 90 per cent of its volume since 2006. In August, a similar event was held in Iceland for a glacier.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte raised the issue during the UN General Assembly in New York.

“The news that a glacier on Mont Blanc risks collapsing is a warning that can’t leave us indifferent. It must shake us up and we have to mobilise,” the newly re-appointed premier said.

Sergio Costa, Italy’s environment minister, said it “highlights the urgent need for strong, co-ordinated action for the climate to avert extreme events that risk having dramatic consequences”. 

Alpine glaciers are fragmenting. There were 824 Italian glaciers in the 1960s and now there are 903 as large bodies of ice fragment.

“The glaciers of the Alps are dying,” said Valentina Acordon, a meteorologist. “But the damage is not irreversible – a drastic reduction of greenhouse gases in the next few years would enable us to avoid the worst scenarios.”


Grandes Jorasses. Picture credit: Wikimedia 




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