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Glacier Retreat & Local climate - can we help?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Hi,

Id like to say Hi as a new member, who has lurked unregistered for a few years. I have found the forum really interesting.

I decided to register so I could start this thread. It was inspired by a recent summer trip through the Alps, and subsequent looking at the Pitzal and Tignes glacier webcams.

My hypothesis is this: glaciers are retreating. Summer skiing is under threat. A tipping point will arrive when it is uneconomical. Loss of glaciers surely affects local microclimates in a way that is unhelpful for winter sports. If having glaciers is a good thing, and mankind can slow their demise, it needs to be done whilst it can be justified economically.

It was hard work finding articles about what communities are doing to protect glaciers/reverse their decline. So my request is that this wonderful virtual panel of experts, enthusiasts, business people, tourists etc do the following here:

1. Tell us all what you have withessed being done to protect/retore glaciers - spread the knowledge and consoldate it here
2. Suggest ideas , crazy or sensible, for ways to help

This might be helpful to/energise communities that are starting to think about taking action and/or encourage Governements, councils, tourist companies etc to take extra steps.

So, to start off, I have seen the following activity:

- blankets on glaciers to insulate them and reflect the sun
- Pitzal and Zermatt have vacuum snow generators to patch up the glaciers
- in Switzerland, one community intends to put snow cannons on a glacier to cover it with reflective snow in summer
- in Switzerland, some homes have to have soot collectors on stove pipes to stop black soot emissions, which appears to make snow melt much faster in sunlight. Iread that despite global cooling in the 1800s, alpine glaciers retreated because of the black carbon from industrialisation. If the alpine smog we see can be reduced, presumably this will help a bit?

What could we do?
- make an effort to go summer skiing - Ive never done Embarassed it, but lift companies wont invest to protect glaciers for nothing
- ask chalets/hotels if they have soot filters - just so they sense a demand signal that it may become uncool to have fires without them
- try to find less car - intensive ways of getting to resort
- discuss the issues with locals - show an interest, find out local plans and encourage them (as we do for new lifts etc)

Those are all that comes to my mind, and this isnt meant to be a heavy tree-hugger post. Its just an invitation to pool thoughts and observations in the hope that it might make even a small difference with our collective brain power and persuasion.

It may sound a bit desperate, but when you see the images of how fast the glaciers are melting, I think it is a slightly desperate situation!

Best regards to all

Phil
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Quote:
My hypothesis is this: glaciers are retreating. Summer skiing is under threat.
Without a shadow of doubt the glaciers are retreating. Our local glacier on the Zugspitze is little more than a patch of ice now, barely deserves to be called a glacier, and will probably be completely gone in 10 years. Summer skiing is now only done one one Austrian glacier in Hintertux, and having seen the state of that a couple of weeks ago I doubt they will be able to keep that up much longer.
Quote:
Tell us all what you have withessed being done to protect/retore glaciers
On the Zugspitze they tried covering the glacier up. Didn't work and they gave up doing it a couple of years ago.
Soot filters may make a short term difference, but the real problem is that the temperatures have gone up and almost all glaciers across the globe are retreating. As I understand it only those at higher altitudes in places where precipitation has increased are growing.
As I see it the only thing that can be done is to globally reduce greenhouse emissions, but this is going to be somewhat difficult to achieve!
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Steilhang,

thank you for that information which was new to me.

I did read that for Pitzal, although the snow making facility was only used to fill the gap between the bottom edge of the glacier and the lift, it would be theoretically possible to use the dense snow it creates to cover the glacier, thickening it and making it more reflective. I wonder if that is true? Is it a cost issue or perhaps it is not viable after all?

I certainly agree that we are fighting climate change, but I wonder if it is better to expend energy to hold back the retreat than deal with the consequences of no glaciers on the mountains (water storage, possibly increased warming locally, lost tourism etc)? If its possible to have pistes in the Middle Eastern Desert (no doubt at massive financial and environmental cost) can we manage to use renewable resources and management to halt some glacial retreat? For example, at Tignes, I am told there is snowmaking on the glacier, but I have not seen it. Although there were flurries of real snow the other day, the glacier was uncovered, dark coloured and vulnerable to any sun. Could Tignes have countered that with snow making to give it a white surface? Maybe it is not viable commercially?

Phil
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@Game of Snows, in addition to your points. Cutting pollution from the millions of cars and lorries than use the Alps to cross from East Europe into West or North to South should be a priority. The Brenner pass is clogged Hope the new tunnel helps!)), as is all the main approaches on both sides. I am sure the Swiss passes are similar.

But money talks and commerce will continue to take priority.

I had read about the Swiss project for covering the glacier. Very hopeful it shows the way.

https://qz.com/972621/to-save-its-famous-morteratsch-glacier-switzerland-is-testing-blowing-artificial-snow-to-prevent-glacier-melt/
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@Game of Snows, you could also consider how to reduce your own carbon footprint from all aspects of your life (commuting, domestic heating etc, diet, holiday travel and so on) as all of these play a part. check out http://footprint.wwf.org.uk for a starting point to think about these things.
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I'm sorry Game of Snows, the European glaciers are doomed bar another ice-age even if carbon emissions were frozen at current levels. You may as well enjoy the last few years of summer skiing left, if that is your cup of tea.
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Inboard,

Thanks for the link, that is an interesting site which I was unaware of. Im going to try it out tonight. Actually, one of the things that made me take notice of this issue was the realisation that we burn a lot of wood at home and when on holiday rather than oil (no gas where I live) I had thought wood was pretty eco-friendly (at least compared to oil) but it obviously has downsides...... I hadnt really thought of the soot issue until I rad about pollution in Chamonix and the historic impact of soot on the glaciers.

A lot of us drive to the Alps, and I wonder if any forum member has set a precedent by taking an electric car to the mountains. If so, fom how far away and how practical was it? Gold star will be awarded to whoever has traveled, all electric, to the Alps from furthest away Very Happy I cant afford a Tesla, but I guess in 5 years time there will be less expensive electric cars that can make it from the UK (for example) to the Alps pretty painlessly. Perhaps resorts should offer free charging and a lift pass or discount for visitors who can demonstrates that they travelled all-electric? No petrol/diesel costs and 25% off a family lift pass would be quite an incentive!

Notwithstanding the excellent wider points about fighting climate change, I am hoping to focus this thad on the issues that are peculiar to the mountains and snow. My thought is that mountain microclimates are probably quite niche and finely balanced - are there local things that can be done to tip conditions in a favourable direction for snow, ice and winter sports?

Keep the comments coming!

Thanks,

Phil
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An electric car to the mountains from the UK? I would guess thats a long way off in terms of being practical, and electric cars still have a carbon footprint. Skiing is one of the most carbon heavy leisure activities that you can take part in, so the best option is not to do it if you are that bothered.

You are also making the assumption that Co2 and human activities are melting the alpine glaciers. We may well have a part to play in that, It is also highly possible that we don't.

I climbed mt Kilimanjaro in 1998, there was a big glacier on the top of that. I don't think there is one there at all now. I did read that its down to deforestation as opposed to Co2 warming, not that that is a good thing.

I seriously wouldn't worry about it, its like the equivalent of worrying if the sun will rise in the morning.
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Letelemarker,

Is there an issue with the Sun too? Shocked Very Happy

Seriously, I take your point and my concern may be futile, but some people are trying to save the glaciers (see post above regarding the Swiss project) so ther must be some chance that they can be helped surely? My motivation is not purely environmental - i love skiing and I want to do what I can to preserve the sport. Its right that it is carbon heavy, but We can improve on that, and some resorts are making real efforts in. That regard.

Regarding an electric car to the Alps, the new "little" Tesla would probably be quite a reasonable means of transport - in France it would be nuclear powered!

Without getting into the whole climate change debate, my particular focus is microclimate effects. I.e effect of soot local to the glaciers, protecting them in some way, etc. Put another way, things that individuals, resorts, companies etc might be able to do to slow retreat, rather than trying to steer world efforts to halt climate change from SnowHeads forum (influential though it doubtless is Madeye-Smiley ).

Phil
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Sadly I think we are 150 years too late.

The changes we are seeing are not going to be reversed by our actions today. Our actions now are aimed at preventing even worse things happening. Our sport isn't facing a great future and it seems that every decade the season starts later and is less reliable. Grab it now while we still can. Sad
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Quote:
Our sport isn't facing a great future


Possibly.

Quote:
it seems that every decade the season starts later and is less reliable


Unconvinced. Also unconvinced that you can measure climate changed based on a couple of decades of often extremely poor quality observations.
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Its all a rather complex subject... so CARTOONS!
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@Richard_Sideways, indeed. Complicated it is.

And to an extent the whole debate seems (in the mainstream media) to be reduced, like a jus to a single rather in and of itself unimportant question, the answer of which is uninformative.
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 You know it makes sense.
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@under a new name, the observation is that the glaciers are disappearing, which appears to be irrefutable. The question is whether the change is anthropogenic, and whether we can do anything about it. I think the evidence points in that direction, and I also think it would be wise to act as though we can do something about it, even if it isn't of our own making. Waiting to gather more evidence is not an option imo.
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@Steilhang, I think I agree with you. However even if our actions alone don't impact the weather I would like skiers to consider paying towards glacier protection in the form of snow cannons (Swiss example), carpets etc. I would be prepared to forgo for example a lift upgrade if I knew thr cash was spent in glacier protection.

Maybe taxing lorries through the Alps specifically to use the cash on protection would be an option.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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Snow cannons need lots of water and energy (and only work in sub zero temperatures). Not really sure that's the answer...
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http://youtube.com/v/FdVijr10DZ0
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@clarky999, agree. But there is no answer really. But then we all just have to give up right?
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Bennyboy1 wrote:
@clarky999, agree. But there is no answer really. But then we all just have to give up right?


No, but it would be better to find an answer or solution that might work than rather than pumping money or effort in something that won't (or even makes it worse). I'd rather the money that gets spent on things like snow cannons were used to fight malaria (or similar), where it would actually make a real difference.
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@Steilhang, sorry, I didn't communicate my points very well.

Glacial retreat is totally happening. But that in and of itself predates recent "fast" (apparent*) warming. Whether the retreat is unnaturally faster than it would have been in an undisturbed, human free environment is far too complicated to answer by me at least.

Quote:

The question is whether the change is anthropogenic, and whether we can do anything about it. I think the evidence points in that direction, and I also think it would be wise to act as though we can do something about it, even if it isn't of our own making. Waiting to gather more evidence is not an option imo.


Whether it's AGW or not? - that's the totally useless question the media and politicians and vested interest lobbyists get all worked up about.

Frankly, (at least, other than to the extent that it's good to understand the processes esp.if that allows better modelling and better science) in the short-mid term who actually cares if it's anthropogenically driven or not? - climate warming appears to be happening and as far as we can reasonably see, things need to change/happen, quickly. It's a bit like arguing over who opened the barn door rather than getting after the bolting horse.

If we master our energy use and it turns out it's been, f'rinstance, solar fluctuation all along, well, great. We then will be sitting pretty in a good place, energy wise. We'll probably need some of that tech to keep ourselves warm in our domes under the new glaciers when the solar cycle reverts to "cooling" rather than "heating".

If science has it wrong (it is fiendishly complicated, the data is relatively poor, modelling isn't easy, etc. but that's science for you) and the climate isn't warming anyway, we'll have all sorts of lovely new technologies. Frankly, effectively free, effectively infinite energy could lead to a much better world for many if not all inhabitants (yes, transient stress and strife alongside but I'm sure you know what I mean).

And while we're at it, we stop being immensely stupid and burning precious, irreplaceable hydrocarbons mostly to move mostly empty, heavy, metal boxes and tubes around. (I am as guilty of adding to the CO2 burden through frequent flying and a big car as anyone Embarassed ).

But few to none of these arguments or decisions to act are effected by whether or not the human race has put itself into this pickle are they? And nor does this fit into a sound bite or a slogan.


* I'm going with it being real, likely better false +ve than false -ve I think in this situation.
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Only slightly off thread.
No snow on Ben Nevis.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-41001234
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under a new name wrote:
@SteilhangWhether it's AGW or not? - that's the totally useless question the media and politicians and vested interest lobbyists get all worked up about.

I strongly disagree that it's a useless question, if we don't have the evidence to prove that global warming is caused by humans emitting vastly more CO2 than any other time in history we'll never convince people that major change is needed.

Luckily climate scientists have collected vast amounts of evidence and the only question left is just how badly we've f*cked things up, the only scientists left who don't agree humans are to blame are the ones cashing paychecks from oil companies.....
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@under a new name,
Quote:
If we master our energy use and it turns out it's been, f'rinstance, solar fluctuation all along, well, great. We then will be sitting pretty in a good place, energy wise. We'll probably need some of that tech to keep ourselves warm in our domes under the new glaciers when the solar cycle reverts to "cooling" rather than "heating".

If science has it wrong (it is fiendishly complicated, the data is relatively poor, modelling isn't easy, etc. but that's science for you) and the climate isn't warming anyway, we'll have all sorts of lovely new technologies. Frankly, effectively free, effectively infinite energy could lead to a much better world for many if not all inhabitants (yes, transient stress and strife alongside but I'm sure you know what I mean).

And while we're at it, we stop being immensely stupid and burning precious, irreplaceable hydrocarbons mostly to move mostly empty, heavy, metal boxes and tubes around.
Ok. I agree with all of that!
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There are loads of good points here.

In evolutionary timescales this debate is, I suppose, pretty academic as Im sure the Earth will warm and cool many times, but Im really grateful to those who are with me on the question of whether we can do anything at a local level even to help extend the life of our sport?

You see when I look at a dark glacier sitting in the sunshine but with cold temperatures at night, I imagine that in the day some may have melted and started trickling down the mountain. If there was a coating of snow blown over the glacier (or vulnerable parts of) the night before, I hypothesise that (i) the glacier would have melted less and (ii) some of the inevitable suumer melt would have been replaced by fresh snow mass.

Is there any science out there (ive not found any) that looks at the impact of things that accelerate melting? For example, crevasses devoid of snow might let warm air/sunlight deep into the glacier. If they were filled with snow (for example using the Pitzal/Zermatt type of kit) would that make an appreciable difference?

One other thought is that we cover our countries with strips of tarmac/concrete which crumble with the weather and traffic and are constantly repaired. If the highways were not maintained at great cost they would crumble very rapidly and be reclaimed by nature. Although glaciers are not useful in quite the same way, they are huge features that store water, affect local climate, bring tourists, sports people and feature in local history and culture. If they received a maintainance budget like a stretch of motorway, i wonder what could be achieved with the money?

Maybe there should be prize for the State which measurably improves its glaciers - nothing like competition between great and proud countries to kindle innovation....

Phil
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Little Martin,

That video is great, thank you. That is so simple but yet transformational for the local environment. Absolute genius. It will be fascinating to see what the valley looks like in 10 years.

Great stuff. Right, lets get some pipe and try it nearer home!
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@Game of Snows, there must be quite a lot (surely?) of glaciology research? It might not all be in English?

While your points seem valid, glacial melting IMV is a symptom and far better to treat the disease.

Also, locally the winter precipitation has been unusually low in certain areas, which makes a big difference I believe.
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@Daishan, "if we don't have the evidence to prove that global warming is caused by humans emitting vastly more CO2 than any other time in history we'll never convince people that major change is needed. "

Again at least 2 questions conflated into 1. But helpful as another example of how this is just not simple.

I don't care whether its's humans fault or not. That's not helpful.

Knowing whether and to what extent CO2 is involved, is, possibly immensely. Understanding human sourced CO2 also.
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Here is another innovative project involving artificial glaciers:

http://www.thebetterindia.com/14672/man-creates-artificial-glaciers-chewang-norphel-ladakh/

Same concept, different design.
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@clarky999, I had wondered about the energy used myself. I suspect someone on here can tell me but is solar energy not very efficient in the mountains? Too difficult to install? Or is it just that hydro is so much easier (cheaper) given the source of water is normally available.

As to other projects/use of funds. Yes cancer, malaria, aids, child poverty etc. I agree, probably better causes which have a chance of success.
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@clarky999, @Bennyboy1, (some)one could make a rational argument that as AGW will be a function of population size (and development) then spending money on healthcare is actually counterproductive...

... and the net effect of snowmaking is entirely trivial (if it's even on a scale similar enough to make a comparison) versus burning bunker fuel to have green beans in Europe out of season.
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@Game of Snows, both ideas are based around taking the water that is melting and get it stored again as ice, we just need a large bathtub at the top of the mountain to store the water and spread on the glaciers when it's cold so it freezes, maybe it could be sprayed out of a small nozzle, that would freeze quicker.
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But, as has been pointed out, trying to prevent the glaciers from melting is treating the symptom and not the disease. Besides, various things, such as covering the glacier up, have been tried and have not been very successful.
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under a new name wrote:
@clarky999, @Bennyboy1, (some)one could make a rational argument that as AGW will be a function of population size (and development) then spending money on healthcare is actually counterproductive...

... and the net effect of snowmaking is entirely trivial (if it's even on a scale similar enough to make a comparison) versus burning bunker fuel to have green beans in Europe out of season.


#1 Agreed - a pretty easy argument to make!
#2 Sure, but I was referring to if we went all out on a project to cover all alpine glaciers with man made snow. TBF that would probably also be fairly trivial in the scheme of things, but still 'making the cause worse in order to treat the symptoms'
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@clarky999, ah, yes, you were.

You can make snow in around or just over 0C I believe...
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@under a new name, selfishly I also want (we all have the right to choose) where our money gets spent. If my favourite resort with a glacier wants to invest in a technology that prolongs the skiable season or medium term future of the glacier then I would be glad to pay more for my ticket. That was my original point.
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......adding to BennyBoy's comment, the hope is we can find a way to prolong the season and have a net beneficial effect.

Skiing is associated, rightly, with a large carbon footprint, but perhaps glacier skiing could be marketed as a way of funding work to support the glacier. I.e. Make a virtue out of summer skiing. Im sure that if there was strong demand, resorts would spend the money to keep a covering of snow. With an ecological justification, governments might contribute too.

What i fear is that summer skiing will continue to slowly wither and therefore no resort will invest against a declining revenue trend - perhaps with the exception of the last man standing who will have all the racers going there off season to train.

I dont know how many cubic meters of ice there must be on the Alps, but it is said that as the glaciers retreat, the Alps are rising as the weight reduces - i.e. It must be a huge amount. As it goes, presumably the local temperatures will trend upwards? Will the snow covering be more susceptable to climate change as a result? What im saying is that loss of the glaciers might well impact non-glacial snow sports as well.
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https://www.livescience.com/58975-snow-machines-could-rescue-melting-swiss-glacier.html

Here's a link to a short video on the topic of whitening a glacier. The predicted glacier growth is huge, but so is the required no. of snow cannons! Very Happy
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[/url]https://www.economist.com/news/business/21716659-some-italian-ski-resorts-now-get-complete-coverage-snow-guns-snow-making-companies[url][/url]
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Related topic. Suggests average cost of EUR 1m per square km of snow coverage.
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@Game of Snows, have you read anything about how deep a layer of artificial snow they expect to need?

Theoretically raising the albedo of the surface makes sense (Stubai often cover the chunks of ice they anchor lifts to in white plastic sheets, I assume for similar reasons), but given a good 2m+ compressed dense snow melts between April and June every year I think you'd need a lot of it to last the summer, even on a glacier!
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