Heatwave this summer in the mountains: disaster for the glaciers – News The Weather Channel

The summer of 2022 should rank 1st or 2nd hottest summer in France since 1950. In the high mountains, the temperatures have been so high that it has hardly snowed at high altitude since the beginning of June.

The Northern Alps have experienced faster and more intense global warming than in the rest of Europe since the 1950s, and especially since 1998 with an increase of 2°C (against 1.3° on average for the surrounding plains) . This warming has been accompanied by a decrease in snowfall – and even precipitation in general, which remains quite complex to explain.

In the end, a decrease in snow accumulation combined with a more marked summer melt causes an acceleration in the melting of glaciers and snowfields: this is the most unfavorable configuration there is.

Alps and Pyrenees: as hot as in 2003

Thus, this summer of 2022 was as hot as that of 2003, a period of the exceptional heat wave which affected all of France. Above the Col de l’Iseran, at the weather station at an altitude of 2869 m, it has not frozen since June 10, with a maximum reaching 17.6°C on July 18.

This particularly hot summer in the high mountains comes after a fairly lightly snowy winter. Thus, the lack of winter snow combined with a hot summer has undermined the “eternal” snows and the glaciers, multiplying landslides and the falls of seracs. Rest assured, the snow and alpine glaciers are not likely to disappear anytime soon, but this year 2022 is part of a generally hot and dry period since 2003.

To date, the most damaging summers for glaciers have been 2003, 2006 and 2015, 2016, 1018, 2019 and 2022.

A combination of dry winters and very hot summers

To maintain themselves, the glaciers must present each year a positive balance between supply (snowfall) and ablation (summer melting). This annual phenomenon experiences cyclical variations: for example, it is accepted that the Alpine glaciers have experienced a decrease in surface area and thickness since the end of the Little Ice Age (end of the 19th century), but within this retreat, we have been able to observe small glacial floods (that is to say: resumption of extension) thanks to very snowy winters and cool and humid summers (1970s to 1980s in particular).

Similarly, on a smaller scale, glaciers and snowfields (snow patches that remain all summer long) did rather well between 2009 and 2013 as well as in 2021 thanks to cooler summers.

Summer 2022: disaster for the Alpine glaciers?

The term is exaggerated, but the glaciers have suffered a lot up to more than 3500 meters of altitude. They lost thickness, they cracked, causing seracs to fall (blocks of ice that break off). The permafrost (soils and rocks that remain permanently frozen) has been weakened, causing landslides and endangering cable car pylons resting on these rocky bases.

The bivouac refuge of La Fourche (3674 m) in the Mont Blanc massif was the victim of the scorching summer, the melting of the permafrost having led to the collapse of the refuge on August 26.

To hope for a stabilization of this accelerated glacial retreat, it would take a particularly snowy winter in the mountains (in order to replenish the stocks of fresh snow upstream) followed in 2023 by a cool and wet spring and a rotten summer. It would only take a few gloomy years in a row for our glaciers to regain what they have just lost. But with the warming trend, this reversal of the trend does not seem to be for tomorrow, even if the summer of 2021 could temporarily make people believe the opposite.

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Heatwave this summer in the mountains: disaster for the glaciers – News The Weather Channel

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