Alps Glaciers Gone by 2050, Expert Says

January 23, 2007

Glaciers are quickly disappearing from the Alps and will be all but gone by 2050, a climate expert said Monday. That's 50 years earlier than a July 2006 study predicted.

The loss would change the supply of drinking and irrigation water, lead to more falling rocks, and cripple the European ski industry.

On average about 3 percent of Alpine glacial ice is lost each year, said Roland Psenner, a fresh water scientist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. That corresponds to about 3.3 feet (1 meter) of ice thickness.

Ten percent was lost in the record-breaking heat of 2003. Seven percent was lost in 2006, Psenner said.

"If the melting goes on at this pace, glaciers will be gone by 2030 to 2050—except some high-altitude sites in the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps," he wrote in an email to National Geographic News.

Psenner's research was discussed Monday at an annual conference on the Alps in the Austrian mountain resort of Alpbach.

(See photos of the melting Alps from National Geographic magazine.)

Consistent Message

Lonnie Thompson is a glaciologist at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University. He said the loss of glacier ice in the Alps is consistent with global trends.

In the past year he and his colleagues have studied glaciers on Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro, the Andes in Peru, and the Himalaya in Asia.

"At all these sites it's the same story. Not only are the glaciers retreating, they are accelerating in the rate at which they are retreating," Thompson said. "That's very consistent with what's going on with the glaciers in the Alps."

Glaciers have, on average, lost about 31 feet (9.6 meters) since 1980, according to the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, which keeps tabs on 30 glaciers in nine mountain ranges around the world.

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