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High level climate change in the Alps


High level climate change in the Alps

In partnership with

Eric Charamel, Alpine mountain guide

“We’re at the foot of the Grand Motte glacier. The glacier itself is above the really white area up there where the ski-lifts are – and it’s the bit called the tongue of the glacier that’s evolved enormously these last 30 or 40 years, because you could ski down the glacier without any problem on the right where the rocks are shining. There was a training piste there.

“Grand Motte – like the other Alpine glaciers – has experienced significant declines in the last century I suppose. Overall, it’s reckoned over the last 10 years it’s lost about 70 to 80 centimetres of ice thickness every year. And it’s been speeding up in recent years. Twenty-five years ago the figure was in the region of 50 centimetres per year. Over the last 10 years it’s more like 70 centimetres.

“We’ve really noticed drastic changes regarding the wind. Winds from the north-north-west used to dominate, which brought in considerable quanities of snow, and above all sustainable.

“Since then for several years the direction has tended to be from the south, south east – and those winds are a bit more humid, and the snow is a bit more slushy too.

“Another thing is that snow coming to us from the south is generally loaded with particles of sand, so you find the snow is less white, curious though it might seem, and that captures sunlight and so melts more quickly.

“There’s a big impact on all aspects of ski-ing, from instructors to the equipment makers and so on. With shorter and less snowy winters, consumption changes.

“And for the guides it’s many times more dramatic. We have to have a safe mountain, in good condition, and we notice that with the global rise in temperatures there are phenomena where the permafrost — that is land that’s permanently frozen — climbs higher and glaciers shrink, the rocks become considerably less stable increasing the risk of rock falls. It’s one type of danger we are really faced with.

“But what’s bad for some is good for others. The zones where the snow has retreated are bit-by-bit becoming more green. Nature is re-claiming its rights. As the glaciers and permafrost climb, vegetation is doing well, first mainly the succulents, edelweiss etcetera, and afterwards plants that are much more robust and herbacious.”

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