Italian Alpine Glacier Collapses, Causing Deadly Avalanche

Italian Alpine Glacier Collapses, Causing Deadly Avalanche

An Alpine glacier on the highest peak of the Italian Dolomites collapsed, killing seven and leaving five still missing. The avalanche occurred one day after temperatures hit a record high of 50 degrees Fahrenheit at the glacier’s peak, a symptom of global warming in the region. Extreme heat is an apparent cause of Alpine glacier melt, but Marmolada’s is estimated to have lost 90% of its volume over the past century.

"The Marmolada glacier collapse is a natural disaster linked directly to climate change,” stated Poul Christoffersen, professor in glaciology at the University of Cambridge, to Bloomberg. "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.”

DW: Massive glacier collapse in Italy kills at least 7, July 5, 2022.

Why This Matters

Glaciers worldwide have been melting faster than ever, with global and local impacts. Glacial melt causes 21% of all sea level rise as well as avalanches and floods in surrounding areas, such as last year’s incident when a Himalayan glacier fell, triggering a devastating flood in northern India. Moreover, 1.9 billion people rely on glaciers for drinking water, and rapid melt depletes water reserves worldwide. Nicknamed the "water tower” of Europe, the Alps (of which the Dolomites are part) supply 40% of the continent's drinking water, making this glacial collapse particularly devastating.

Plus, Europe is experiencing drought on top of heatwaves. Spain and Portugal are experiencing the driest climate in at least 1,200 years, with 97% of Portugal in "severe drought.” Meanwhile, 35 French départements have imposed water restrictions, and Italy is facing its worst drought in 70 years.

1 News: Glaciers melting at an alarming rate, May 1, 2022.

The YEARS Project: Why Melting Glaciers Are So Scary, June 30, 2020.

Scientific American: This is what a glacial lake outburst flood looks like, January 15, 2020.

Alpine Melt Accelerates

Rescue teams are still searching the area for those still missing using drones because the glacier is too dangerous to explore on foot. Unfortunately, this may not be the last avalanche in the region. The Alps have warmed by 2 degrees Celsius and have lost half of their total ice volume since 1850. According to new research published in Science, widespread snow melt and "greening” can be seen from space. Glacier specialist Renato Colucci told Italian news agency AGI that this disaster is "bound to repeat itself" because "for weeks the temperatures at altitude in the Alps have been well beyond normal values.”

The rest of Europe may also see an increase in avalanche conditions. The IPCC reported that glaciers in Scandinavia, central Europe, and the Caucasus could lose between 60 and 80% of their mass by the end of the century.

NewsRme: The Alps are becoming green as a result of climate change, June 3, 2022.

DW: Climate change | Europe’s melting glaciers (documentary), July 31, 2019.

Meanwhile, In Pakistan

Pakistan, too, is seeing an increase in avalanche conditions. Other than the poles, the country holds more glaciers than anywhere else in the world. In recent years, flooding related to Pakistan’s glaciers has displaced thousands.

Seven million Pakistanis live in vulnerable areas. Still, the nation has been unable to defend against disaster with necessary infrastructure. Additionally, glacial areas are not highly researched, leaving many unaware of the severity of the threat.

“People are still constructing homes in areas declared as a red zone for flooding. Our people are not aware and prepared to deal with any possible disaster,” Siddique Ullah Baig, local disaster risk reduction analyst, told AFP.

BBC: Bridge swept away as melting glacier causes flooding in Pakistan, May 9, 2022.