Disasters Like Italian Glacier Collapse Predicted to Increase as Planet Warms

The ice serac that collapsed on the Marmolada mountain

The ice will be that collapsed on the Marmolada mountain, near Punta Rocca, on July 4, 2022. PIERRE TEYSSOT / AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this week, at least seven people died when a chunk of a glacier from the tallest mountain in the Dolomites, Marmolada, collapsed, The New York Times reported. At least 14 people were also missing.

The recent vague de Chaleur in Italy has been cited as a factor, as large portions of ice are thought to have melted, reported The Guardian. According to scientists, events like the glacier collapse in the Dolomites are likely to happen more often as the planet warms.

“The Marmolada glacier collapse is a natural disaster linked directly to climate change,” said professor in glaciology at the University of Cambridge Poul Christoffersen, as Bloomberg reported. “High elevation glaciers, such as the Marmolada, are often steep and relying on cold temperatures below zero degrees Celsius to keep them stable. But climate change means more and more meltwater.”

Spokesperson for the National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps Walter Milan pointed out that recent temperatures at the peak of Marmolada had been above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, reported The Guardian, which Milan said was “abnormal.”

According to experts from the National Research Council in Italy, much of the Marmolada glacier has already disappeared and it won’t exist in the next 25 to 30 years.

Director of the Bristol Glaciology Center at the University of Bristol professor Jonathan Bamber noted that not much snow fell in Italy’s Dolomites mountain range last winter amidst a drought. Bamber added that, with the abnormal high temperatures so far this summer, the glacier was rapidly melting.

“The section that broke off was part of a hanging glacier with seracs or ice cliffs that become particularly unstable during warm conditions such as those in the Dolomites right now,” Bamber said, as The Guardian reported.

The same combination of factors that caused the collapse of the Marmolada glacier is affecting other mountain ranges.

“Catastrophic glacier collapses such as this are becoming more frequent,” said Christoffersen, as reported by The Guardian.

Carlo Budel, a lodge keeper atop Marmolada glacier, posted a video of the glacier on Facebook just days before the incident, with a caption saying, “Poor Marmolada glacier,” The New York Times reported.

University of Lausanne in Switzerland researcher Jacques Mourey said that climate change had likely weakened the glacier, which then collapsed during the heatwave.

“When the glacier melts, it means there is melting water that goes all the way down to the bottom of the glacier, when it gets to the bottom of the rock it causes the ice to slide and this causes an avalanche,” Mourey said, as reported by The Guardian.

Mourey went on to say that a large crevice in the glacier had collapsed, and that without it — added to the melting of the glacier due to the unusually high temperatures caused by climate change — the avalanche likely wouldn’t have happened.

Climbing is becoming more risky as climate change alters the integrity of mountain structures, Mourey added.

“We already showed that some areas have become too dangerous or too difficult for mountaineers to access, climate change is already really impacting mountaineering,” said Mourey, as The Guardian reported.

After traveling to the site of the avalanche, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi said that the tragic event “certainly depends on the deterioration of the environment and the climatic situation,” according to Bloomberg.

Draghi added that the government needed to take precautions to ensure that events like the Marmolada glacier collapse have “a very low probability of happening or can even be avoided,” as reported by Bloomberg.

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