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.

The Availability of freshwater is considered as one of the greatest challenges of the future. Today processes such as retreat of mountain glaciers, formation of glacial lakes and the spread of deserts are rapidly progressing. Some of the immediate consequences of such climate change are:

  • Drinking water shortage of people and animals and for irrigation.
  • Depopulation of rural areas to destruction of regional economic structures in mountainous regions, which are often strongly influenced by tourism.
  • Like all Alpine Glaciers, the largest Glacier of Graub√ľnden, the Morteratsch Glacier, shows a serious mass loss. This large freshwater stagnation, which plays an important role in  hot periods for the waters supply is in danger. It is not clear  what significance the fading glacier masses have for the future drinking water supply of Switzerland, but in autumn 2015 some of the municipalities, or even the huts of Switzerlander's Alpine clubs, have declared the trouble with the water supply. At the same time, the whole country loses important tourist attractions.

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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