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Study: Heat wave led to unprecedented melting of Swiss glaciers

GENEVA – Swiss glaciers are melting like never before, according to an academic study published on Wednesday, their ice volume having shrunk by 6% this year amid growing concerns about global warming and a summer heat wave that swept across the Europe.

The Swiss Academy of Sciences reported that ice shrinkage in the country’s glaciers surpassed a previous record nearly a generation ago.

“2022 has been a disastrous year for Swiss glaciers: all ice melt records have been broken by the severe snow shortage in winter and the continuous heat waves in summer,” the academy said in a statement.

The academy based its report on data collected by Glamos, the Swiss glacier monitoring network. Switzerland has the largest volume of glaciers of any country in Europe.

Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich who leads the Glamos program, says there is “zero chance” of glaciers returning for decades – at best – given current projections for global temperatures.

“We have a streak going back over 100 years, and we’ve never seen anything like this year,” he said over the phone. “It’s something that was expected in the future for such extremes to occur, but now they’re already here.”

Switzerland had to deal with an “unfortunate combination of factors” this year that led to the big meltdown, Huss said. Snow cover in the Swiss Alps was exceptionally light, particularly in the southeast, meaning the glaciers had less natural protection against the heat.

A drift of dust from the Sahara then blanketed many parts of Europe in the spring, causing the snow to absorb more solar heat. A spike in summer temperatures across Europe has further intensified ice melt.

The findings come on top of another study published last month showing that Switzerland’s 1,400 glaciers have lost more than half of their total volume since the early 1930s.

The report published on Wednesday details the damage in the Swiss Alps: More than 6 meters (19.6 feet) of ice has melted this year on the top of Konkordiaplatz in the Great Aletsch Glacier in the south, near the border Italian.

Small glaciers like the Pizol in the east near Liechtenstein, the Vadret dal Corvatsch near St. Moritz in the southeast and the Schwarzbachfirn in central Switzerland have “virtually disappeared”, the team said.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in Germany said the Southern Schneeferner Ice Cap in the Alps had melted so much this summer that it could no longer be considered a glacier – leaving Germany with just four glaciers .

Huss said that while people are not acting fast enough to curb the global alert, he thinks the world is waking up to the threat and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere.

“World leaders have at least realized that something has to be done to prevent the negative impacts of climate change,” he said. “But still, I feel that there are not enough plans that have been implemented. But at least it’s better to have a plan and strive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by greenhouse than not to talk about it.

Follow AP’s climate and environment coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

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