Thursday, February 22

High temperatures kill glaciers and their historical climate record

The melting advances in the “La Mer de Glace” glacier, near Chamonix (France). / Afp

The great masses of ice on the planet are melting due to the increase in temperatures and the little snowfall

Jose A. Gonzalez

“The danger is increased by crepezas that split the glacier like abysses, with gaps of unfathomable depth, several hundred meters long and more than ten meters wide in some places,” described Lucas Mallada. Author of the Physical and Geological Description of the Province of Huesca in 1878. Now, on those same slopes, the ascent to Monte Perdido, one of the last glaciers in the Iberian Peninsula, is made with a few centimeters of snow and ice.

At more than 3,000 meters of altitude, Monte Perdido is one of the more than 20 glacial masses of the Pyrenean mountain range. “Indeed, they are being reduced,” explains Jesús Revuelta, scientific researcher at the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology (IPE) of the CSIC.

A slow thaw that also melts history, “they are great historical records,” Revuelta highlights. Like true detectives, scientists carefully look at each of the frozen bubbles in each of the glacier layers. “They accumulate sediments from what the atmosphere was and is like and store traces of pollen or plants that have been transported by the wind,” reveals the IPE researcher.

With a small perforation in this icy layer, it is possible to travel in time. A journey of 800,000 years in some cases and in others such as Monte Perdido in the Pyrenees of 2,000 years. “Thanks to this finding, we have been able to confirm that there was no increase in temperature in the Pyrenees in Roman times,” says Revuelta.

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Comparative Monte Perdido Glacier. /


A secret stored for two millennia that the detectives of the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology managed to decipher in 2017. “We show that the glacier was active during Roman times (RP), a well-known warm period in the Iberian Peninsula,” reveals the

Thanks to a 15-meter column, Spanish researchers managed to reconstruct the climate in the Spanish Pyrenees. “It allows the identification of cold periods of glacial growth and warm periods of ice loss,” the text details.

Climate change has melted more than 9.6 billion tons of glacial ice since the 1960s.

However, over the months and years, this historical record is lost down the slope in fine streams of fresh water. “In this investigation, the colleagues have not found ice less than 600 years old,” warns Revuelta.

This evil is not endemic, but, rather, it is pandemic. Climate change has melted more than 9.6 billion tons of glacial ice since the 1960s, according to the University of Zurich. “The volume is decreasing and only those with more favorable conditions and who accumulate more snow can withstand it,” adds the IPE researcher from the CSIC.

Despite their special protection, even by law, the Pyrenean Glaciers have gone from occupying 2,060 hectares in 1850 to 210 hectares today, and from 52 recorded ice masses to only 19. “This is the last testimony of the glaciers which, together with other modeling agents, gave rise to the main forms of the relief of the Pyrenees”, signs the Diputación de Aragón in a document on these “natural monuments”.

2000 years of growth, decades to disappear

A resistance to Numantine temperature changes during Roman times and the Middle Ages that ended in the 19th century. «The Little Ice Age was its maximum stage», explains Jesús Revuelta. “There were low temperatures and heavy snowfall,” he adds.

«The current warming in the Pyrenees is faster and more intense than in any previous warm phase of the last 2000»

Almost two centuries later, the situation is totally different. “What there is now in the Pyrenees is a tenth of what there was 150 years ago,” warns Revuelta. “The recent rate of ice mass loss is faster than that of the four centuries of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (10th to 14th centuries)”, adds the Spanish research. “It suggests that the current warming in the Pyrenees is faster and more intense than in any previous warm phase in the last 2000.”

However, “it is difficult to predict a specific date of disappearance, but if we continue like this we will see small glacial rocks and not glaciers like the ones we have now,” highlights the researcher from the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology.

In the case of the Alps, where part of a glacier has recently broken off, climate change is already noticeable. The snow has weakened, according to a study in Science, the tree line, that imaginary border that marks the limit of the habitat in which the vegetation is capable of developing, has been climbing meters in recent years.

Across the Atlantic, the alert is similar from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Among the fastest disappearing glaciers are those of the Alps, Iceland or Alaska. “The only way to stop this deterioration is to avoid rising temperatures and that happens by reducing emissions,” explains Revuelta. “This climate change is man-made,” he says.

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