Andreas Linsbauer, a 45-year-old Swiss glaciologist, bounds over freezing crevasses carrying 10 kg of steel equipment needed to track the loss of Switzerland’s glaciers.
Normally, he follows this path on the huge Morteratsch Glacier in late September, near the end of the Alps’ summer melt season. However, very significant ice loss this year has forced him to visit this 15-square-kilometer (5.8-square-mile) ice amphitheatre two months early for emergency maintenance.
The measuring rods he uses to track changes in the depth of the pack are in danger of dislodging completely as the ice melts, necessitating the drilling of new holes.
The Alps’ glaciers are on track to lose the most mass in at least 60 years, according to statistics shared exclusively with Reuters. Scientists can calculate how much a glacier has shrunk in a given year by comparing how much snow fell in the winter to how much ice melts in the summer.
Since last winter, when there was minimal snow, the Alps have had two major early summer heatwaves, including one in July that saw temperatures near 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Swiss alpine resort of Zermatt.
During this heatwave, the elevation at which water froze reached a record high of 5,184 metres (17,000 feet) — higher than Mont Blanc – compared to the average summer level of between 3,000 and 3,500 metres (9,800-11,500 feet).