Mont-Blanc

Climate change is melting the Alps

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Those who have chosen to spend their holidays in the Alps and weave their way through the mountains may have noticed this summer. The panoramas are just as dazzling, the Mont-Blanc just as majestic, but there's something strange and unusual about it. Mountain dwellers who like to climb the snow-covered peaks no longer find their familiar landscapes. Climate change is more than ever directly observable in the high mountains.
 
Ahe most visible sign of advancing global warming is the continued retreat of glaciers. « In the Alps, glacier surfaces have halved between 1900 and 2012, with a strong acceleration of melting processes since the 1980s. "explains to the Guardian Jacques Mourey, alpinist and scientist who studies the impact of climate change on the mountains above Chamonix. The Mer de Glace, one of the great tourist hotspots of Savoie, is today unrecognizable. « The Mer de Glace is now melting at a rate of about 40 metres per year and has lost 80 metres in depth over the last twenty years. ", explains glaciologist Luc Moreau.
 
The other visible, and particularly dangerous, impact of climate change is the loosening of rocks, which causes rocks to fall. Chamoniards recorded more than 550 rock falls on the Mont Blanc massif alone between 2007 and 2015. The reason lies in the permafrost, the icy material that lies in the cracks in the rocks and cements them together. As the permafrost melts, whole sections of the mountain are destabilized and are likely to collapse.
 
This happened spectacularly, with the collapse in 2005 of the Bonatti pillar, a massive column of rock, an emblematic place in the region and a mythical climbing ground for many mountain enthusiasts. For mountaineers, it is as if the Eiffel Tower had collapsed.
 
These signs indicate that global warming is occurring here, in the high mountains, at a faster rate than in other places on the planet. A climate change that is transforming the places and making the maps of climbing routes used for decades by mountain people obsolete. The access paths to the refuges are being modified because the old ones are becoming singularly dangerous. The increasing number of rock falls has led the authorities to take measures to close certain paths, open new, safer routes, build Himalayan-style bridges and fixed ladders to ensure difficult and dangerous passages.
 
Global warming in the high mountains is taking its toll. Five dead in August in the Mont Blanc massif. Among them were renowned guides and enlightened mountain enthusiasts, not unconscious tourists who would have ventured on uncertain routes. In August 2017, three million cubic metres of stone fell on the Swiss village of Bondo, devastating everything in their path. For mountaineers, the mountains become more dangerous in summer than in winter. Some routes are real cut-throats, they say, with whole swathes of rock falling down. Catherine Destivelle, who was the biggest name in French women's climbing, confides to the World : " I'm scared. It's collapsing everywhere. In Redhead, it falls every three days. And not little rocks, whole tables! It's horrible. "
 
Ludovic Ravanel, member of the Compagnie des guides de Chamonix and researcher at the CNRS has been observing the temperature curves of the region for several years. Curves that go wild he says : " We're seeing some score-setting. Plus 2.1°C in Chamonix in seventy years, maybe another 6 or 7 degrees by the end of the century. Knowing that mountain environments are warming up two to three times faster than the rest of the planet, what will be left of the Alps? "
 
Mountain lovers are displeased. All the more so as nothing seems to be done to stop or at least try to stop the phenomenon. The Arve Valley near Chamonix is as polluted as the Parisian ring road, with its 550,000 lorries crossing it to take the Mont Blanc Tunnel. At the rate things are going, certain highly touristic areas, which are considerable sources of income for the region, will find themselves condemned. This is notably the case of the Aiguille du Midi, where rock collapses are constantly being recorded, but which nevertheless receives 500,000 visitors a year, transported by a cable car that reaches an altitude of 3,800 metres. For the authorities, no risk - immediate. But the situation is deteriorating very quickly.
 
 

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