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Snow cover on Alps declining; as much as 70% snow cover will be lost by 2100

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The Alpine mountain range is considered one of the best places for skiing and that’s because of the extensive snow cover it has, but that’s changing with a new study forecasting loss of 70 per cent of snow cover by 2100 because of global warming and climate change.

Researchers have projected that if global warming continues at its current pace, we will have to get used to see bare Alps without the extensive snow cover by turn of the century; however, all is not lost yet and rapid actions towards limiting global warming within the 2°C limit as agreed to during the Paris deal could save a lot of snow. If we successfully limit the temperature increase as agreed to, only 30 per cent of the snow cover will be lost by 2100.

A new study published in The Cryosphere suggests that December 2016 was the driest for Alps ever since record-keeping began over 150 years ago. Further, 2016 was also the third consecutive year with scarce snow over the Christmas period.

For the study, researchers simulated future snow cover in the Alps taking into consideration a number of factors including temperature and snowfall projections to come up with snow cover projections on the Alpine range. Scientists suggest that the snow cover is most likely to change over the course of next 70-80 years, but the amount of change will be dependent on global warming – greater the increase in temperatures around the world, the greater the decline in snow cover, researchers said.

“The Alpine snow cover will recede anyway, but our future emissions control by how much,” explains lead-author Christoph Marty, a research scientist at SLF.

Scientists also determine through their simulation that global warming will shorten the winter season and the ski season could start half a month to a month later than it does at present. That’t not all! Scientists have also projected that at the current emissions rate, winter sports enthusiasts will have to scale much greater heights on the Alps to enjoy their favourite sport – above 2500 m by the end of the century.

According to the projections, the layer of snow covering the Alps will get less deep “for all elevations, time periods and emission scenarios,” they write in their The Cryosphere paper. “The most affected elevation zone for climate change is located below 1200 m, where the simulations show almost no continuous snow cover towards the end of the century.”

Ski resorts at higher altitude could also see drastic reductions in snow depth. If global warming isn’t limited to 2°C, snow depth could decrease by about 40 per cent at the end of the century even for elevations above 3000 m. The Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany, has an altitude of 2962 m. The two highest ski resorts in the Alps, the French Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix, Mount Blanc and the Swiss-Italian Matterhorn ski paradise, have maximum elevations of about 3900 m and minimum heights of around 1000 m and 1500 m, respectively.

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