climate change puts skiing at risk

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    Climate change puts skiing at risk
    By Peter Hardy (Filed: 20/11/2004)

    Global warming is proceeding at such a rate in the Alps that flash floods and landslides could become commonplace and some popular summer-ski areas disappear within 15 years, according to a new report.

    Swiss scientists surveyed 938 glaciers in the Alps as part of a study by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

    "What is happening is nothing short of catastrophic," said Dr Frank Paul of Zurich University, who led the team. "It is astounding how much ice has already been lost."

    He says that research in the 1980s underestimated the rate of meltdown. Huge swathes of ice needed to support plant and animal life in the mountains have already disappeared, causing environmental hazards such as rock slides.

    "You don't have to be a scientist to understand this," he said. "I could tell you lots about mean temperature change but, if you want to appreciate what I am saying, just take a hike in the Alps. If you have seen the same glacier five years ago - or even two years ago - you will be deeply shocked by the extraordinary changes to the landscape."

    The report says that higher annual temperatures have caused glaciers to shrink by an average of 18 per cent between 1985 and 2000. During the previous 12 years they were largely unchanged, and between 1850 and 1973 they shrank at a steady two per cent per decade.

    Dr Paul said that the exposed Theodul glacier above Zermatt, in Switzerland, lost as much as 30 per of its mass in the 15 years to 2000, and that it could "disintegrate" by 2020 or even earlier.

    A new six-person chairlift was recently opened on it and at present skiing continues there throughout the year.

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