Morteratsch Glacier Protection Project

The Morteratsch Glacier, Pontresina, Switzerland, is a major touristic attraction. Due to strong retreat the lowest part of the glacier is getting out of sight from the gravel road that provided direct access to the glacier front. The Community of Pontresina has commissioned a preparatory study to find out if it is possible to slow down the retreat of the Morteratsch Glacier in an environmentally friendly way. Based on our analysis of a 20- year weather station record we arrive at the conclusion that producing summer snow in the ablation zone over a larger area (typically 0.5 to 1 km2) is the best option, and may have a significant effect on the rate of retreat on a timescale of decades.

Studying the impact of summer artificial snow production on the mass balance of a glacier

MortAlive Project seeks to cover half a hectare of the Morteratsch Glacier with artificial snow in the summer to protect the glacier from further retreat.

It takes about 10 years before snow deposition in the higher ablation zone starts to affect the position of the glacier snout. The difference in glacier length between the snow and no-snow experiments becomes 400 to 500 m within two decades.

Wie alle Alpengletscher zeigt auch der grösste Gletscher Graubündens, der Morteratschgletscher, bedenkliche Massenverluste. Dieser grosse Süsswasserspeicher, welcher in sommerlichen Hitzeperioden für die Gewässernetze eine wichtige Rolle spielt, ist in Gefahr. Es ist noch nicht absehbar, welche Bedeutung die schwindenden Gletschermassen für die zukünftige Trinkwasserversorgung der Schweiz haben, doch im Herbst 2015 gab es infolge andauernder Trockenheit bereits einige Gemeinden oder auch Hütten des Schweizerischen Alpenclubs, die Mühe mit der Wasserversorgung bekundeten. Gleichzeitig verliert damit das ganze Land auch wichtige touristische Attraktionen.

MortAlive Project

Vadret da Morteratsch, photographed from a glider on 29 June 2003, looking south. Front positions are indicated for several years. The 2035 front position has been calculated for a scenario in which climate does not change, an unrealistic assumption.


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