Sunday, June 02, 2013

As Glaciers Melt, Alpine Mountains Lose Their Glue, Threatening Swiss Village

GRINDELWALD, Switzerland — Marco Bomio recalls that bright Sunday morning in June 2006 as if it were yesterday. Mr. Bomio, 59, a school principal and mountain guide, attended a religious service on a high mountain meadow to mark the founding of a local guide group.
“Suddenly we saw this immense cloud,” he said over coffee in a wood chalet typical of this Alpine village. “Normally, it might have been snow. But in June?”
“Then we saw that it wasn’t snow,” he went on. “It was rock dust: part of the mountain had come down.”
Grindelwald, population 3,800, lies in the foothills of a wall of Alpine peaks, rising to more than 13,000 feet. It is also home to two of Switzerland’s largest glaciers, the Upper and Lower Grindelwald Glaciers, which for millenniums have snaked their way through Alpine gorges toward the town.
With global warming, the glaciers are melting. Once stretching to the edge of town, they now end high in the mountains. Moreover, their greenish glacial water is forming lakes. In summer, when the melting accelerates, floodwaters threaten the area. But the avalanche witnessed by Mr. Bomio shows that the shrinking of the glaciers removes a kind of buttress supporting parts of the mountains, menacing the region with rock slides. Read More