35-year glacier study reveals looming crisis





Glaciers in Swiss Alps are disappearing at an alarming rate, forcing scientists to conclude that smaller glaciers will disappear altogether in the next decade
Glaciers in Swiss Alps are disappearing at an alarming rate, forcing scientists to conclude that smaller glaciers will disappear altogether in the next decade

A 35-year University of Salford study into river flow from glaciers in the Swiss Alps has revealed that lack of winter snow as well as warming air temperatures are causing glaciers to melt at an alarming rate – with some smaller glaciers likely to disappear in the next decade.



Professor David Collins from the University’s School of Environment & Life Sciences has been measuring river flow from Gornergletscher, near Zermatt since 1974 – and the project now has the longest, most continuous and most detailed records of meltwater discharge and glacier river water quality in the world.



River flows have doubled since the 1970s, but are now starting to reduce. Declining flows will allow river temperatures to increase and dissolved oxygen levels to fall – changing the Alpine meltwater eco-system forever.


Professor Collins said: “The contribution of river flow from the loss of ice can’t go on forever. When these glaciers disappear completely there will be no meltwater at all and flow will be greatly decreased and will have changed nutrient characteristics.”



The ongoing experiment, which measures water flow, water temperature and solute chemistry, now runs with automatic data collection throughout the year. Professor Collins began his study as a PhD student back in 1974. Since then he has been taking undergraduate and postgraduate students from Salford and other universities on field trips every summer.



“The result of these changes to our eco-system will simply be disastrous for hydropower and for aquatic life,” warned Professor Collins.

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