Glaciers shrinking faster than ever

Austria’s glaciers shrunk last year faster than ever before according to the latest report by the countries mountain sports association the Alpenverein.

Measurements carried out by a team of 20 experts showed that 97 percent of the ice giants had seen a significant shrinkage – with none of the 95 glaciers growing any larger – and only three percent remaining relatively unchanged.

Many saw shrinkage of over 30 metres in their length, according to the report.

Glaciers are formed over the centuries when the rate at which snow falls exceeds the rate at which it melts creating a permanent ice field. The last Austrian glaciers are leftovers from the ice age and at the current rate of melting most are not thought to last much more than next 30 years.

Dr Andrea Fischer from Innsbruck University who heads the glacier measuring project said that the biggest shrinkage had been at the Firmisan Ferner glacier in the Ötztal Niedertal which had shrunk by 64.5 metres.

She said part of the problem was the higher temperatures caused by global warming but also the lack of snow that accompanied that. She said summer had arrived early in 2011 and that the relatively low temperatures in July and the early snow in September had done little to change anything.

She added: “What is happening is very noticeable and the statistics really make it unrguable that we are eventually going to get to a point where there are no longer any glaciers.”

Glacier measuring is a complicated job because occasionally the glaciers are underwater in part or under large rockfalls which make them difficult to gauge. But the Austrian Alpenverein has a lot of experience and has been measuring glaciers in the country for 121 years.

She said: “It is a lot of work and I want to thank all of those who were involved in the project for all of their efforts to help is study what is happening.”

The 15 glaciers that shrank more than 30 metres were the following:

1. Firmisan Ferner (Ötztaler Alpen)         -64,5 m
2. Simony Kees (Venediger Gruppe)           -56,0 m
3. Viltragen Kees (Venediger Gruppe)        -54,0 m
4. Obersulzbach Kees (Venediger Gruppe)     -50,5 m
5. Vernagt Ferner  (Ötztaler Alpen)         -47,1 m
6. Kesselwand Ferner  (Ötztaler Alpen)      -43,8 m
7. Pasterze (Glocknergruppe)                -40,3 m
8. Untersulzbach Kees (Venediger Gruppe)    -39,5 m
9. Diem Ferner (Ötztaler Alpen)             -38,9 m
10. Gepatsch Ferner (Ötztaler Alpen)         -38,3 m
11. Taschach Ferner (Ötztaler Alpen)         -33,0 m
12. Alpeiner Ferner (Stubaier Alpen)         -31,8 m
13. Umbal Kees (Venediger Gruppe)            -31,4 m
14. Hochjoch Ferner (Ötztaler Alpen)         -31,3 m
15. Schlaten Kees (Venediger Gruppe)         -31,3 m