Swiss glaciers lost 5.9% of their volume last year and a further 4.4% of their ice this year. Over the last two years, Swiss glaciers have lost (-5.3 cubic kilometres) more ice than they did in the 30 years between 1950 and 1980 (-2.3 cubic kilometres).
The figures were reported this week by the Swiss Commission for Cryosphere observation (SCC), which said the recent rapid melting was due to two seasons of low snowfall combined with two hot summers.
The level of glacial shrinkage this year was the second highest on record. Only the previous year saw greater ice melt. The recent pace of melting is greater than forecast, said the SCC.
Melting of several metres of glacial ice was measured in southern Valais and the Engadin valley at altitudes above 3200 metres, heights at which glaciers had until recently maintained their depth. In 2023, 4.7 metres of ice melted at Concordia Place (2,700-2,800 metres) on the Great Aletsch Glacier – see photo above.
In 1950, Swiss glaciers contained 92.2 cubic kilometres of ice. By 2023, the total had slumped to 47.6 cubic kilometres, a decline of 44.6 cubic kilometres or 48%. Glacial volume was relatively stable until 1981 (90.4) before descending at an average rate of around 1 cubic kilometre a year.
Containing around 6% of Europe’s water, Switzerland is sometimes referred to as Europe’s water tower. Swiss glaciers are an important element of this water system. They accumulate and hold water over the winter and release it during spring and summer. However, with less volume they will eventually release less water. This will have a negative impact on agriculture, hydro electricity production and risk leaving boats in navigable rivers such as the Rhine high and dry, a problem occurring with greater frequency.
SCC article (in English)