Austria | The lost memory of the retreat of the glaciers


(Galtür) Jamtal Glacier in Austria, scientist Andrea Fischer knows it like the back of her hand. But he never “imagined it would melt as spectacularly as it did this summer,” taking valuable data with it in the process. Posted at 10:58 Denise HRUBY Agence France-Presse With the course of global warming, “our archives are disappearing”, she worries, as she examines the ice at her feet which, in some places, mixes with the earth , giving the landscape a greyish appearance. For more than 20 years, Ms. Fischer has been examining Jamtal and other glaciers in the Tyrolean mountain region. In these unique time capsules, which date back thousands of years, she and her team regularly take ice cores. They can then date them by taking carbon 14 measurements on plant remains that have become trapped over time. The analysis of the different layers allows “to understand the climate of the past and create models for the future”, explains the researcher. Seven meters lost A task that, however, is increasingly complex for the deputy director of the Mountain Research Institute of Innsbruck, attached to the Academy of Sciences. Because melting, an indicator of climate change, has accelerated over the last 20 years, according to a study published in Nature in April 2021. Of the 220,000 glaciers on the planet, the 4,000 located in the Alps have particularly shrunk and the most are doomed to evaporate. “This year is crazy compared to the average of the last 6,000 years,” says Andrea Fischer. At this rate, Jamtal will cease to be a glacier in five years. Andrea Fischer, scientist A drilling operation at a depth of 14 meters even had to be advanced by a few days, given the exceptionally high temperatures. Snow normally shields the glacier from the sun during the summer, but the few flakes that fell last winter were gone by early July. “Therefore, the glacier is fully exposed to the sun for two months,” emphasizes the scientist. The impact on research is devastating: Ms. Fischer predicts a loss of seven meters of ice this year, compared to one meter usually, “which corresponds to the analysis of 300 years of climate change” in smoke. “My heart bleeds” The situation also creates additional risks due to heat waves that make the ground unstable, as at the Marmolada glacier in Italy, where a huge block collapsed in July, killing 11 people Not to mention the other ramifications: beyond their vital economic role in attracting tourists, Austria’s glaciers feed large rivers in the summer and contribute to the hydraulic network. In the nearby village of Galtür, which has 870 inhabitants, the Alpí Club has taken the lead and already offers an excursion called “Goodbye, glacier! in an attempt to raise awareness about global warming. Its manager Sarah Mattle evokes a sense of “seriousness” in visitors “when they really become aware of what they hear and see in the media”. When the ice disappears, it certainly gives way in a few years to about twenty different species of plants, mainly mosses. It’s an opportunity to discover “new, more accessible hiking trails”, adds the 34-year-old alpinist. However, like many Austrians emotionally attached to their glaciers, Gottlieb Lorenz cannot accept the idea. His great-grandfather was the first manager of the Jamtal refuge, located at 2165 meters of altitude. “My heart bleeds when I think of the magnificence of the past,” says the 60-year-old, showing a photo from 1882 in which the villa appears surrounded by a thick white cloak. Today you have to walk 1 hour and a half before reaching the ice.
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