Switzerland – famed for its luxurious ski resorts and beautiful ice-capped mountains – is running out of snow, a new scientific study has warned.
State-of-the-art satellite data suggests the popular holiday destination has lost almost a fifth of its snow over the last 12 years due to global warming.
The melt hit some of Switzerland’s top ski resorts, including parts of the Swiss Alps, threatening to dethrone the country as one of the world’s top ski destinations.
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Satellite data collected over a period of 22 years shows changes to Swiss snow coverage between 1995 and 2017. Areas of intense red have lost as much as 24 per cent of their snow coverage, while green regions have gained up to 14 per cent
Scientists at the University of Geneva in Switzerland analysed 22 years of satellite data covering the entire Swiss territory.
They confirmed more than 1,900 square miles (5,000 sq km) of snow has disappeared from the country in just over a decade.
Between 1995 and 2005, 36 per cent of Switzerland experienced little or no snow with a zero to 20 per cent chance of snowfall.
By last year, this figure had spiralled to 44 per cent – a jump researchers attribute to global warming.
The change impacted some of Switzerland’s top ski resorts, including those around the Alps and Jura mountains, scientists revealed.
‘Low snow conditions prevailing on the plateau are gradually gaining ground in the Jura and in the Alps, a phenomenon particularly evident in the Rhône Valley,’ said study coauthor Dr Grégory Giuliani.
Comparison between 1995 – 2005 (left) and 2005 – 2017 (right). This reveals that during the first decade studied, 36 per cent of Switzerland experienced little or no snow with a zero to 20 per cent chance of snowfall (red). But during the 2005-2017 timeframe (right), this figure had grown to 44 per cent, a jump the researchers attribute to global warming. The ‘eternal snow’ zone (blue), where the probability of snowfall varies between 80 to 100 per cent, still covered more than a quarter of Switzerland between 1995 to 2005. Ten years later, this had dropped by 15 per cent
For their study, the team used data from the Swiss Data Cube – a store of 6,500 satellite images covering 34 years.
Scientists can monitor snowfall by superimposing satellite images of the same place and precisely following its evolution over time thanks to earth observation satellites that regularly pass above the same location.
The ‘eternal snow’ zone, where the probability of snowfall varies between 80 to 100 per cent, covered more than a quarter of Switzerland between 1995 to 2005.
Switzerland – a country famed for its luxurious ski resorts and beautiful ice-capped mountains – is running out of snow, warns a new scientific study. Pictured is mount Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps
However, ten years later, this had dropped by 15 per cent – a loss of more than 770 square miles (2,000 sq km) or around seven times the size of the canton of Geneva.
Dr Giuliani said: ‘Detailed knowledge of snow cover and its evolution in Switzerland is an essential tool for public policies decision-making.
‘Beyond the economic issues related to tourism, other questions arise such as flood risk management or water supply, given the storage role that snow plays, retaining water in winter to release it in spring and summer.’
HOW IS GLOBAL WARMING AFFECTING GLACIAL RETREAT?
Global warming is causing the temperatures all around the world to increase.
This is particularly prominent at latitudes nearer the poles.
Rising temperatures, permafrost, glaciers and ice sheets are all struggling to stay in tact in the face of the warmer climate.
As temperatures have risen to more than a degree above pre-industrial levels, ice continues melt.
For example, melting ice on the Greenland ice sheet is producing ‘meltwater lakes’, which then contribute further to the melting.
This positive feedback loop is also found on glaciers atop mountains.
Many of these have been frozen since the last ice age and researchers are seeing considerable retreat.
Some animal and plant species rely heavily on the cold conditions that the glaciers provide and are migrating to higher altitudes to find suitable habitat.
This is putting severe strain on the ecosystems as more animals and more species are living in an ever-shrinking region.
On top of the environmental pressure, the lack of ice on mountains is vastly increasing the risks of landslides and volcanic eruptions.
The phenomena is found in several mountain ranges around the world.
It has also been seen in regions of Antarctica.