It’s a dire prognosis for Germany’s five alpine glaciers – according to glaciologist Christoph Mayer of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in Munich, who thinks they could all disappear within the next 15 years.
Germany’s glaciers are facing particular tough times compared with neighbouring ones, Mayer told Reuters TV in an interview on Thursday (August 18).
“We have around 3,000 glaciers still in the Alps and there are a few very large glaciers in the Alps that will survive for a long time. But it is already the case that the majority of the glaciers in the Alps will disappear in the next 50 years,” he said.
One German glacier, called ‘Schneeferner”, is located on top of the Zugspitze, the country’s highest mountain.
Since records began in 1901, never has the snow depth on the Zugspitze been so low in July, according to the environmental research station ‘Schneefernerhaus’, which is located on the glacier.
Like the other glaciers, the Schneeferner has been melting dramatically in recent years and has lost much of its volume in the past decade.
This year’s high temperatures and low rainfall have made it especially hard for the glaciers to survive because a low volume of snow can accelerate the melting of the ice.
Mayer thinks it’s not hikers walking across the snow and ice sheets that damaged the glaciers. It’s the Sahara dust cloud, a phenomenon down to south-western winds, which have been carrying sand and dust from the Sahara across Europe, including Germany, in early 2022.
“Snow has a very light surface. This means that when the sun shines on the snow, most of the solar energy is reflected and is not used to melt the snow. But if there is dark dust or dark sand on this snow surface, then this sand absorbs. The sun’s radiation and the heat that is generated is then transferred directly into the melting of the snow,” the scientist explained.
“And this has led to the fact that this spring, the snow cover disappeared relatively quickly, especially on the Bavarian glaciers, where there was actually not such a small layer of snow, in contrast with many other regions in the Alps.”
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the easiest way to slow down the melting of alpine glaciers, Mayer says.