Swiss glaciers shrink by more than half their size in 90 years, experts reveal

Swiss glaciers shrink by more than half their size in 90 years, experts reveal

New research by the government and ETH Zurich has found that glaciers in Switzerland have shrunk by more than half their original size between 1931 and 2021. The study analysed thousands of photographs of glaciers in order to determine how much climate change and the weather has melted glacial ice over the years.

62 cubic kilometres of glacial ice lost in 90 years

Along with the three separate heatwaves recorded in Switzerland this year, experts say glaciers have been exposed to a large amount of heat in recent decades. Over the last few weeks, the melting of glacial ice has revealed mountain passes unseen for 2.000 years, and two bodies which the Swiss police are still trying to identify.

Now, new research from ETH in Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research has found that the glaciers lost half their volume between 1931 and 2016, and a further 12 percent of their ice between 2016 and 2021. The total loss amounts to 62 cubic kilometres of glacial ice, “20 percent more than previously assumed,” according to glaciology professor Daniel Farinotti.

To create the study, researchers at ETH analysed 21.700 photographs of the Swiss mountains and glaciers, taken between 1916 and 1947. The Swiss university explained to SRF that they had to rely on photographs for part of the study because proper glacial measurements only started to be taken in 1960, and have only been measured regularly in recent years.

Climate change causing Swiss glaciers to melt

However, despite glacial melting making up the majority of cases, experts did note that some glaciers have grown at times between the 1920s and 1980s. They also conceded that some glaciers have not been photographed or studied as thoroughly as others, making it difficult to get accurate measurements - even if visual evidence would suggest the glacier is receding.

Concluding his statement, Danial Farinotti said that “glacier retreat is accelerating. Closely observing this phenomenon and quantifying its historical dimensions is important because it allows us to infer the glaciers’ responses to a changing climate. This information is needed to develop reliable scenarios for future glacier changes.”

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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