Europe’s heatwaves threaten to wipe out all ice in the Alps

Written by Jakob A. Overgaard

Sep.10 - 2023 10:30 AM CET

Photo: Jumpstory
Photo: Jumpstory
For millennia, glaciers have graced our planet, serving as frozen sentinels from Alaska to New Zealand.

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These icy behemoths, even in equatorial regions, have withstood the test of time and the relentless sun. However, the relentless march of human-induced climate change is now threatening their very existence.

As reported by, Dr. Matthias Huss, a renowned glaciologist from ETH Zurich, paints a grim picture. He notes that even if carbon emissions were halted immediately, the Alps' glaciers would still lose half their mass. This is because they are simply too expansive for the current climate conditions.

Last year, Swiss glaciers experienced a record loss, shedding six percent of their mass due to insufficient snowfall and recurring summer heatwaves. This alarming rate of melt surpassed the previous record set in 2003.

The repercussions of this rapid melting are profound. Smaller glaciers, lacking the necessary mass to endure, are already on the brink of vanishing. The ice that's being lost now is irreplaceable, pushing the Alps closer to a future devoid of glaciers. Dr. Huss emphasizes that while immediate changes are inevitable, long-term outcomes can still be influenced. Implementing the Paris Agreement could salvage approximately one-third of the Alps' glaciers.

Historically, since 1850, the Alps have already lost two-thirds of their ice. The remnants, in an optimistic scenario, would be a mere fraction of their former glory. Dr. Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand from the British Antarctic Survey highlights that while glaciers have always experienced fluctuations, the current situation is unique.

Climate change is intensifying extremes, and the elevated baseline temperatures prevent glaciers from recovering during intermittent periods.

For a glimpse into the future, one need only observe the Pyrenees. Once glaciated, they are now almost devoid of ice. The remaining glaciers are on a fast track to extinction. In the Tropics, the situation is even more dire. Elevated temperatures mean that mountain peaks are no longer conducive for ice formation. Indonesia's Eternity Glaciers, for instance, are predicted to disappear by 2026.