Friday, August 12, 2005

More Global Warming

The Pasterze Glacier, the longest of Austria's 925 glaciers, runs for 5 miles down and away from Johannisberg mountain. The 11,362 foot peak is located in Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Hohe, Austria.


A cable car built some 40 years ago to run right down to the glacier now stands a considerable distance apart. The glacier loses more ground each year.

"It's going down from four to eight meters a year," or about 13 to 26 feet, said Mr. Trojer, who grew up in this valley. "In the early 1960's, they used to have a ski race every spring from the top of the Grossglockner to the bottom of the glacier." The Grossglockner, which looms above the Pasterze, is, at 12,460 feet, Austria's highest mountain.

"They can't do it anymore," Mr. Trojer said a bit sadly. "It's warmed up, and there isn't enough snow."

Glacier shrinkage is not a phenomenon unique to Austria.

It's a worldwide phenomenon. One Chinese expert on glaciers, Yao Tandong, director of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has said that the glaciers in the Himalayas shrink annually by an amount equivalent to all the water in the Yellow River, Agence France-Presse has reported.

The impact on ski resorts is a matter of such concern that dramatic artificial means have been employed to slow the losses.

In Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, some ski resorts - Ischgl, about 100 miles west of here, is one example - are so eager to retain the glaciers that they are covering them with vast sheets of white, sun-reflecting insulation in order to save them.

Other concerns run to a more basic nature. These include earthquakes and flooding.

Two European geologists, Andrea Hampel of the University of Bern and Ralf Hetzel of the University of Münster, wrote in the journal Nature earlier this year that the retreat of glaciers could cause an increase in the number of earthquakes.

Other scientists have warned that lakes forming in the back of glaciers because of melting ice could burst through cracks in the glaciers and cause tsunami-like devastation to towns down below.

The Pasterze glacier's reduction would likely have occurred even without the activity of humankind. But those activities have quickened the pace.

But they say that even without the impact of human activity the glacier would probably be shrinking anyway, as glaciers have always done in response to the earth's long cycles of relative warmth and cold.

"If you go back in history, there have been very large temperature changes," Mr. Minor said. "And now we are having a temperature change most likely influenced by man, and that accelerates the shrinkage. It's definitely the case that human action has an influence."

The glacier has been such a popular attraction that it has sown the seeds of its own undoing.

On a recent Thursday, there were so many visitors that the immense multistoried parking garage at Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe (Emperor Franz Joseph's Heights) was full, and people in cars on the road below had to wait up to an hour for a space.

The more people the glacier attracts, the more cars that will be needed to carry them. And more greenhouse gases will be discharged into the atmosphere hastening the glacier's demise.


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