The Ultimate Game Changer: Climate Change in the Alps
Precipitation over the whole area of the Alps has moved northward over the last 100 years. As a result, northern ranges are suffering increasingly from flash floods and southern mountains are receiving less snow. These changes in snowfall patterns are affecting communities and wildlife that live in the area.
In the northern area, high snow fall has led to an unprecedented increase in blizzards and avalanches in the winter, and flooding and mud slides in the summer. Mont Blanc, The Matterhorn and Monte Rosa have all seen an increase in unstable, sliding surfaces. The southern area, on the other hand, suffers from drops in levels of snow and rainfall, year on year.
The trends point to rising temperatures, but it is hard to understand the effect this is having on precipitation in the area. Many alpine species are being forced further up the mountain to cope with the changes in temperature.
It’s not just the Alps that are being affected; Australia’s alpine national parks are also under threat. Normally the slopes receive heavy natural snowfall, but in the high country areas, a decrease of 30% has already been seen. Over the next four decades, a further drop of 25% could occur.
Back in the Alps, the agriculture and tourist industries compete for the water supply, but with skiing and snowboarding bringing so much money into the area, with 80 million people visiting each year, tourism often wins.
The full effect of global warming may not fully register as snow machines are used to manage the piste and keep it open against the odds. Using snow machines creates a demand on water and increasingly effects much of the areas downstream such as ecosystems, agriculture and energy production.
Confronted with these problems, some people have taken the matter into their own hands. The owners of Pitztal Glacier ski resort have bought huge white blankets and covered 15 acres of glacier to prevent it from melting over the summer. Some ski areas in Germany and Switzerland are following their lead and wrapping some parts of their glaciers too.
The impact of these efforts remains unknown, yet, to preserve the Alpine experience for future generations, and to save the industry, something has got to be done.