In the meantime, north of the main Alpine ridge between Upper Carinthia and France, large-scale threatening collapses of glaciers are also at stake – as recently on the Marmolada massif in the Ladin part of South Tyrol/Trentino at the weekend. In addition, there are possible floods or mudflows caused by meltwater that builds up and accumulates under the Murben ice sheets.
Researcher warns of mountain dwellers and alpinists
Under almost all glacier tongues, cavities have formed in the last few weeks and months – which are not or only with difficulty recognizable from the outside, explains the glaciologist Andrea Fischer from the Academy of Sciences: “These cavities can now collapse in many places without warning.”
At the weekend, the expert analyzed the condition of the Übergossene Alm on the Hochkönig (Pongau and Pinzgau) and the Great Gosaugletscher in the Dachstein area (Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria). The expert also used our current aerial photos, which can be seen here. Further analyzes of locations will follow in the next few days. Photos from Saturday evening, July 2, 2022:
Photo series with 16 pictures
Plus degrees up there 24 hours a day
Fischer emphasizes that such conditions have never been seen in research before: “Most glaciers are already largely dry at the beginning of July. That has never happened before. We see here a state that otherwise occurs in late August or in September. Temperatures are now above freezing all night long up there. As a result, the ice is melting over the entire area 24 hours a day, and the discharges in the glacial streams are very high. This situation has already occurred in preferred summers, but so far only at the end of the season at the beginning of autumn.”
Saharan dust as a major accelerator
This year, spring dust from the Sahara, which is still present in the protective glacial snow, caused the melt to accelerate further.
The conditions for glacier tours are now extremely unfavorable, according to Fischer. Blank ice with a layer of scree requires technically very clean walking with crampons, crevasses still filled with snow require walking in a rope team.
In this combination, the rockfall that occurs can quickly end in death for roped parties: “The ice on the higher parts of our glacier is much thinner than that on the glacier tongues at the lower end. If the upper areas are snow-free, the sun can heat up several meters of ice through the subsoil, and the meltwater also brings in additional heat.”
Recent disaster on the Marmolada
Exactly one month ago, these pictures were taken from the current scene of the accident – with even more snow on the highest mountain in the Dolomites:
Photo series with 6 pictures
“Completely new processes under ice masses”
According to Andrea Fischer, more and more large cavities are forming under the ice, which can then also fill with meltwater. The lack of static friction of the ice on the ground then leads to a break-off, says the glaciologist. In the steep areas, the ice is now particularly thin and can be easily detached: “Together with debris and meltwater, there are mudslide-like descents that reach far down into the valley.”
Fischer points to similar processes that have already destroyed mountain villages in the Himalayas and in the Karakoram Mountains. In the Alps, the heights of the ice, water and debris (Glacier Outlet Floods) are significantly lower – and thus the range of such threats: “Unfortunately, the situation is expected to worsen in the coming weeks as the melt continues. The loss of thickness also leads to increased mobilization of debris from the marginal fractures. He then falls over the bare flanks – sometimes on ascent routes.”
“Avoid danger areas!”
Fischer urgently advises mountaineers to proceed with extreme caution on glaciers and in their outflow areas from now on. You should only stay in the danger areas for as short a time as possible: “Unfortunately, relaxation can only be expected once the extreme melt has ended, i.e. with the first cold nights in autumn.”
Mountain and ski guides call for rethinking
The Salzburg professional mountaineer, state-certified mountain and ski guide and volunteer mountain rescuer Günther Karnutsch also advises extreme caution: “Basically, I am and always have been against the alarmism that is widespread today. With the current conditions, however, we still have a lot to do. The accident on the Grand Combin on May 27, with two dead and many injured, some seriously, was a warning long before the most recent event on the Marmolada. In addition, there is increased rockfall because the permafrost soils are thawing. The glaciers are now disappearing and the mountains are crumbling.”
Good tour selection and tour planning are now essential for survival. The mountain and ski guide demands that one should no longer allow oneself to be thoughtless and deliberately negligent – as they have developed in parts of the mass public. Karnutsch was the president of his Salzburg professional association for many years.