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Global warming in Switzerland

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Melting Unteraar glacier

Landscape of the melting Unteraar glacier.

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The climate is changing

The climate is changing, and so is the climate in the Swiss Alps. The average temperature is rising, and very low temperatures are becoming more rare. Glaciers are melting away. The number of days that Swiss people need to turn on the heating in their homes has significantly dropped. There are less days with snowfall, and more summer days. Spring is getting wetter in the northern Alps and drier in the southern regions. There's a downward tendency of precipitation in winter in the Alps and in western Switzerland.

Climate change is now a fact, but is it a bad thing? Yes, it is. Global warming caused by humanity is causing a very rapid climate change, much quicker than nature itself would cause. It's not climate change itself which is a problem, as the climate is always changing. It's the pace that is causing, and will cause, many problems around the globe. There are upsides too, like the possibility of better growing crops in temperate climate zones, but the disadvantages and risks are far greater. That goes for Switzerland as well.

The risks of a changing alpine climate

The Alps are delicate. Summers are expected to keep getting warming and drier. Winters are expected to become moister, which increases the chances of flooding. Heavier rainfall is becoming more frequent, again increasing risks of flooding. Rising temperatures already cause rockfalls as permafrost zones (rocks and soil that used to be frozen permanently), are now melting. This is causing massive rock slides. The Eiger and Matterhorn are examples of famous mountains that already suffered from this phenomenon. It can be a direct threat to villages too. The town of Pontresina built a huge dam in 2003, to protect itself from mud and rock slides.

Half of the Swiss glaciers will melt away; a process that has started decades ago. There will still be snow in the mountains, but not so much in regions below 1,500 m. Winter sports will most probably not be possible there anymore. There's being worked on plans to adapt for this scenario. Flora and fauna will change as climate zones shift to the north.

Tourism and thus the economy is being influenced as well. For example: summer skiing was once possible on Mount Corvatsch. In 1988, this was becoming more difficult because of the retreating glacier. In 1992, the conditions had become even worse and summer ski is no longer possible ever since.

Switzerland is taking many measures to protect the environment and prevent climate change, but obviously can't stop a global problem from having an effect on the Alps. Many predicted effects are already becoming a reality, but long term effects are hard to predict. For example, there's still a chance that global warming will have a cooling effect on western Europe, if the thermohaline circulation in the Atlantic shuts down or slows down.

Things you can do to protect the Alps

It's quite easy to help to protect the Alps while you visit them. The way you travel and the things you buy make a big difference. See what you can do.

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