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High on an alpine ridge under a ceiling of ice, water drips into a cave formed by the slowly shrinking Yamtalferner glacier, the AP reported. In just a few years, it will be gone, and in decades after that, the rest of Austria’s glaciers may face the same fate due to human-caused global warming.
Andrea Fischer, a glaciologist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, testified to this significant shrinking of the glacier. She and her team are measuring the ice to understand how global warming is affecting glaciers now and in the future. In the past few years, pieces of Austrian glaciers have begun to break off and become dry land, a process not seen in the region in recent centuries.
“A few years ago we thought they would last until the end of this century, but now it seems that at the end of 2050, at the end of the first half of the century, there will be no more glaciers in Austria,” said Fischer.
Melting glaciers are one of the clearest indicators of the effects of human-caused global warming. As a result of climate change, glaciers around the world – from the Rocky Mountains to the Alps and the Himalayas – are rapidly shrinking. Scientists estimate that two-thirds of the world’s glaciers will disappear by the end of the century under current climate trends.
Many people are already going to the mountains to see the glaciers before it is too late. Germany’s southern Schneiferner Glacier has already lost its status as such after the hot summer of 2022, but the large northern glacier is still intact, although it is also melting. Located on the highest peak in Germany, it attracts many tourists and adventurers.
Specialists will continue to monitor Jamtalferner as it melts. Scientists need to understand how much water will flow from the retreating glacier and also assess the safety hazards of the now-exposed rock and remaining loose debris, Fischer explained.
And while it’s too late to save the Yamtalferner from extinction, Fischer argues that even if people stop burning fossil fuels now, the melting process is already underway – to limit changes in mountain regions would need to be limited global warming.
The alpine ecosystem can survive warming of 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, Fischer said. At lower levels of warming, the glaciers could potentially even recover.
According to Fischer, the long-term perspective is important.
“I think it’s important that we all learn to think longer term than our lives, because we have to think about the next generations. Our decisions will affect the next generations, especially in the mountain regions.”