The Alps are Europe’s greatest mountain range, a popular destination for visitors from all over the world and home to some of the continent’s most striking flora and fauna. However, as climate change causes temperatures to rise, the mountains themselves are heating up. The consequences are having a dramatic impact that is felt far beyond the Alps themselves.
On 3. July 2022, a serac or column of glacial ice collapsed on the Marmolada mountain in the Dolomites. At the beginning of August, authorities in the Mont Blanc area were forced to close a number of huts as a result of falling rocks. Dangers for tourists are increasing every year:
ice bridges are melting, fissures and crevices are expanding and erosion and the thawing of permafrost are causing an increasing number of rockslides.
The Alps are becoming increasingly green. This is immediately visible on satellite imagery and equally evident during hiking expeditions with biologists. What a first seems promising – rising temperatures allow grasses, plants and bushes commonly found at lower elevations to move higher into the mountains, thereby actually increasing natural diversity in the Alps – is a problem for plants and animals that already have reached their limits, who can go no further.
The signs are everywhere: migratory birds, insects, butterflies and reptiles now appear several weeks earlier than they used to. Some species that didn’t exist in the mountains at all now settle here. Marmots, on the other hand, find it hard to deal with the warming climate and are moving higher. Before long, they will reach an area where the layer of soil is too thin to allow them to construct their burrows.
For now, the Alps still contain billions of cubic metres of ice. City inhabitants from Vienna to Munich and Milan take the continued availability of potable water for granted. But what happens if the glaciers vanish altogether?