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Alps to lose 90 percent of glacier volume by 2100

A large portion of the Alps' glaciers could be saved if climate change can be slowed by CO2 emissions reductions.

By
Brooks Hays
The Alps will be mostly ice-free by 2100 if climate change isn't slowed. Photo by M. Huss
The Alps will be mostly ice-free by 2100 if climate change isn't slowed. Photo by M. Huss

April 9 (UPI) -- It's not looking good for the Alps' glaciers -- all 4,000 of them.

According to a new study, the mountain range's glaciers are likely to lose 90 percent of their volume by the end of the century.

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Human-caused climate change is causing temperatures to rise across the globe. In the Alps, models predict rising temperatures will accelerate melt rates.

By 2050, scientists estimate 50 percent of the Alps' glacier volume will have disappeared. Glacial losses over the next few decades are more or less unavoidable, researchers contend. Humans have released enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to fuel global warming for some time.

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But a large portion of the Alps' glaciers could be saved if climate change can be slowed by CO2 emissions reductions.

"The future evolution of glaciers will strongly depend on how the climate will evolve," study-leader Harry Zekollari, a researcher at ETH Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, said in a news release. "In case of a more limited warming, a far more substantial part of the glaciers could be saved."

Researchers used sophisticated climate models to simulate the impacts of different warming scenarios on the Alps' glaciers. If the climate continues to warm, the Alps will mostly be ice-free by the end of the century, but if the average global temperature increase can be kept less than the 2 degrees Celsius target, nearly 50 percent of the Alps' glaciers will be saved.

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At least half of the Alps' glacial volume is likely to disappear no matter what happens.

"Glaciers in the European Alps and their recent evolution are some of the clearest indicators of the ongoing changes in climate," said ETH Zurich researcher Daniel Farinotti. "The future of these glaciers in indeed at risk, but there is still a possibility to limit their future losses."

Earlier this month, NASA shared images showcasing the dramatic decrease in the size of Länta Glacier in the Swiss Alps.

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Many communities rely on the Alps' glaciers to fill reservoirs and provide year-round drinking water. Glacial outflows also help fuel the production of hydroelectric energy.

The latest analysis of the future of the Alps' glaciers was published in the journal The Cryosphere.

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