The 100-year climate catastrophe of Mont Blanc

mont blanc

(Charlie Hammond, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: David Elliott, Chief Sub-Editor, Formative Content


In 1919, pilot and photographer Walter Mittelholzer flew over the Mont Blanc massif in a rickety propeller-driven aircraft, taking pictures that gave the world a new perspective on Western Europe’s highest mountain range. A century later, researchers have repeated his mission – and their images show dramatic changes in the landscape.

 

Dr. Kieran Baxter and Dr. Alice Watterson from the University of Dundee recreated Mittelholzer’s photographs of three glaciers in the French Alps – Argentière, Mont Blanc Bossons and Mer de Glace.

Then and now: Mont Blanc’s Argentière glacier.
Image: Walter Mittelholzer, ETH-Bibliothek Zürich / Dr Kieran Baxter, University of Dundee

Using a technique called monoplotting, they analyzed Mittelholzer’s pictures to determine the position of the camera before heading to Mont Blanc in a helicopter to recreate the shots.

Dr Kieran Baxter used modern technology to recreate the centuries-old images.
Image: Dr Alice Watterson, University of Dundee

The results show just how big an impact climate change is having on ice cover in the region. Hovering at a height of around 4,700 metres, just below the summit of Mont Blanc, Baxter says the scale of the ice loss was immediately evident.

But it was only when they compared the images side by side that the effect became fully visible.

Alpine glaciers, such as Mont Blanc Bossons, are melting at what scientists say is an alarming rate.
Image: Walter Mittelholzer, ETH-Bibliothek Zürich / Dr Kieran Baxter, University of Dundee

“It was both a breathtaking and heartbreaking experience,” he says. “Particularly knowing that the melt has accelerated massively in the last few decades.”

A mounting problem

Researchers say alpine glaciers are melting at an alarming rate as the planet warms. While global temperatures have risen by about 1°C since Mittelholzer took his pictures, the Alps have warmed by 2°C over the course of the 20th century.

Swiss pilot and photographer Walter Mittelholzer flies over Mont Blanc in 1919.
Image: ETH-Bibliothek Zürich

This is causing problems across the region, including on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, where a 250,000 cubic metre chunk of the Planpincieux glacier risks breaking away.

Alpine glaciers have lost as much as 40% of their surface area and half of their volume since 1850, reducing their ability to reflect the sun’s rays, and leading to more warming as the rock absorbs solar energy.

A century apart: the Mer de Glace glacier as it was in 2019, and today.
Image: Walter Mittelholzer, ETH-Bibliothek Zürich / Dr Kieran Baxter, University of Dundee

And the effects of this warming don’t stop there. The Alps are experiencing shorter snow seasons and reduced snow cover, more frequent soil water shortages and rises in the altitude at which permafrost is found.

As well as affecting local people, tourism and the economy, these changes are harming biodiversity, as the warming forces some species further up the mountains in search of the conditions they need to thrive.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum’s Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Immediate action

If global warming continues at the current rate, temperatures could go up by 3 to 5°C by the end of the century. Melting glaciers are also contributing to a rise in global sea levels.

The UN says that limiting global warming to 1.5°C could help reduce the most adverse effects of climate change. But has warned this would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes across society.

The University of Dundee researchers flew at a height of 4,700 metres to capture the images.
Image: Dr Alice Watterson, University of Dundee

Advertising

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Brexit: reciprocal visa-free access for EU and UK nationals

Syria still suffering ‘staggering levels’ of humanitarian need, Security Council hears

Eurasian Union begins: the giant modelled on the EU is Moscow’s biggest challenge

An EU Summit without purpose

Six steps that can help us to tackle homelessness

The space internet race is dawning. Here’s what to expect

Worldwide UN family celebrates enduring universal values of human rights

Philanthropy is at a turning point. Here are 6 ways it could go

Violence in North and West Africa increasingly targeting civilian and border areas – OECD/SWAC

The European Parliament x-rays the troika’s doings

7 ways business can be agents for peace

Newly licensed vaccine, ‘milestone in the fight’ against Ebola in Africa, UN health agency

Main results of EU-Japan summit which took place on 25/04/2019 in Brussels

Managers’ pay under fire

Our food system is pushing nature to the brink. Here’s what we need to do

UN ‘comes together in sadness and solidarity’ to honour staff who died on board Ethiopian Airlines flight

New EU short-stay visas: more advantages for legitimate travellers

The Parliament sets the way for the European Banking Union

Q and A: This is how stakeholder capitalism can help heal the planet

Who is first (and last) in the race to build a workforce fit for the future?

Advanced economies still have plenty of work to do to reach Sustainable Development Goals

Not faith, ‘but those who manipulate the faithful’ driving wedge between religions, UN-backed forum in Baku told

‘Stay together and step up’ action to meet Global Goals, ECOSOC President tells development forum

EU Trade Ministers come together in a desperate attempt to save TTIP

People are scared of artificial intelligence – here’s why we should embrace it instead

The EU Parliament blasts the Council about the tax dealings of the wealthy

Refugee crisis update: Commission still in panic while Turkey is to be added in the equation

Climate change and health: a much needed multidisciplinary approach

EU-US trade deal: Europe to Americanize its social model?

Merkel had it her way with the refugees & immigrants but can Greece and Turkey deliver?

‘Global trust’ declining, ‘our world needs stepped-up global leadership’

Progress made at COP25, despite lack of agreement to increase climate ambition

UN food relief agency airlifts aid to DR Congo province hit by Ebola outbreak

Snowden is the “EU nomination” for this year’s Oscars

Why the Fourth Industrial Revolution needs more arts graduates

Commission reports on progress made by Albania and North Macedonia

In the future, no one should be excluded from healthcare

What makes Copenhagen the world’s most bike-friendly city?

Rohingya refugee shelters ‘washed away’ in Bangladesh monsoon rains: UN agency

Zhua Zhou: Choosing The Future

ECB doesn’t dare touch Eurozone’s big banks

These tech start-ups are changing what it means to farm

Human trafficking, slavery reports and health of migrants in Libya

How smartphones can close the global skills gap for billions

This entrepreneur is helping farmers get food to consumers during lockdown

Can the next financial crisis be avoided?

Record-breaking heatwaves killed about 1,500 people in France

With potential to boost profits by up to 20 per cent, a woman’s place is at work, says UN labour agency

Could Europe become the first climate-neutral continent?

EU-Belarus: MEPs back agreements on readmission and visa facilitation

Rights of ‘gilets jaunes’ protesters in France, ‘disproportionately curtailed’, say UN independent experts

We must stop choking the ocean with plastic waste. Here’s how

FROM THE FIELD: One teen’s journey from refugee camp to US school principal

Britain’s May won the first round on the Brexit agreement with the EU

What cryptocurrencies will do to the integrity of politics

Who is to pay for Trump’s trade war against China?

UN chief ‘deeply saddened’ by Ethiopia plane crash which killed 157, including at least 21 UN workers

EU-US Privacy Shield data exchange deal: US must comply by 1 September, say MEPs

Declaring commitment to ‘peace and stability’ for Libya, top UN envoy steps down as stress takes its toll

US cities are going to keep getting hotter

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s