Climate change has put the Mont Blanc glacier in the Italian Alps on the brink of collapse, officials warned, prompting road closures, travel restrictions, and evacuations in the immediate vicinity. Municipal officials issued the order for evacuation after surveyors noticed a significant increase in the sliding speed of the Planpincieux glacier, which rests on the Italian side of the Grand Jorasses peak. The mountain is one of many in the Mont Blanc massif spreading across Italy, France, and part of Switzerland.
The glaciers in the Alps are a source of vital water and meet the hydroelectric needs of the region while playing a key role as tourist destinations. Recent surveys had revealed that the lower portion of the glacier was moving 19 to 23 inches i.e. 48 to 58 cm per day, leading to the closure of certain roads and the precautionary evacuation of some residences in sectors closest to the glacier.
In areas identified as safe, residents, workers, and public officials and employees can access the stable roads, but only emergency vehicles would be permitted to ply after dark. Although it is not certain that the Planpincieux glacier’s collapse was imminent but the officials conceded that they had no fool-proof warning system for such an event. Officials did say that the glacier’s precarious status was the outcome of a climate emergency that had already begun as stated by the international group of scientists this week.
The mayor of Courmayeur, Stefano Miserocchi, said in a statement, “These phenomena testify once again how the mountain is in a phase of strong change due to climatic factors, therefore it is particularly vulnerable. In this case it is a temperate glacier particularly sensitive to high temperatures.”
At the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte echoed the mayor’s comments by saying, “It is now news that a glacier on Mont Blanc risks collapsing. It’s an alarm that cannot leave us indifferent. It must shake us all and mobilize us.”
On Wednesday, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their final and most ominous report about the effects already underway.
The team of global scientists wrote in a statement accompanying the report, “Glaciers, snow, ice and permafrost are declining and will continue to do so. This is projected to increase hazards for people, for example through landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods. Smaller glaciers found for example in Europe, eastern Africa, the tropical Andes and Indonesia are projected to lose more than 80 percent of their current ice mass by 2100 under high emission scenarios. That glacial loss would continue to adversely affect recreational activities, tourism, and cultural assets.”
According to a study published in April in the Cryosphere journal, under a limited global warming scenario, these frozen resources could lose two-thirds of their volume by the end of the century. The researchers, based in Switzerland, projected that under a stronger global warming model, the Alp’s glaciers would disappear almost entirely by 2100.