Global warming: Famed Austrian peak nearly ice-free

Summit monument on popular peak threatens to topple

The summit cross on the 3,660-meter Grossvenediger in Austria recently threatened to topple over, as warming temperatures have melted the permanent snow and ice that held the monument in place for decades. Photo courtesy Bergrettung Prägraten.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — In yet another sign of how quickly global warming is eating away at glaciers in the European Alps, the Austrian Alpine Club is reporting that the summit cross high on the 3,660-meter Grossvenediger in Austria came close to toppling off its podium this summer.

The permanent snow and ice that helped hold the monument in place for decades melted away in the summer heat, with several feet of ice vanishing just in the past few months. A mountain guide arriving at the summit last week discovered that the cross was close to falling over, with potential risks to summit visitors.

A mountain rescue crew and other workers temporarily re-anchored the cross to the remaining ice with steel cables, but later decided to take it down once again. It will be remounted on solid rock.

Austrian media is reporting that, up until very recently, it would have been impossible to use the bare rocks at the summit as an anchor point. The permanent snow and ice that has covered the mountain’s peak for at least a century has just vanished within the past few weeks, according to Friedl Steiner, head of the local rescue group, who attributed the melting to climate change.

The U.S. Geological Survey has documented shrinking and vanishing ice fields in the Rocky Mountains with this extraordinary photo project.

Global warming deniers will try to tell you that glaciers have been melting since the end of the last ice age, but the rate of melting at most glaciers now far exceeds the background rate that could be expected as part of natural climate variations.

Glacier melting has accelerated in the European Alps since 1980, and 10 to 20 percent of glacier ice in the Alps has been lost in less than two decades. Half the volume of Europe’s Alpine glaciers has disappeared since 1850.

Thinning and melting rates in Alaskan glaciers have more than doubled just in the past 10 years.

African glaciers have declined by 60 to 70 percent since the 1900s, and most Pacific glaciers have also declined, with the exception of some of New Zealand’s ice fields, where increased precipitation has helped boost glacier growth.





One thought on “Global warming: Famed Austrian peak nearly ice-free

  1. Aug. 25. 2012
    Unprecedented snow melt and heat in the European Alps
    The recent heat wave in Europe has especially been anomalous at higher altitudes resulting in some of the highest Alpine peaks in Europe being snow-free for the first time on record including the iconic peak Matterhorn.
    Early snow melt and record temps at mountain-top stations in the Alps
    On August 19th the temperature at Jungfraujoch, Switzerland (the highest railway station in Europe) reached 12.8°C (55.0°F) the warmest temperature ever measured at this site where records began in 1937. This observatory is located at an elevation of 3580m (11,745’) just above the famous railway station.

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