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Save our Glaciers

October 15, 2010

The temperature has plummeted today in Paris – we moved from Indian summer on Monday through autumnal crispy, clear skies ending in quite frankly, miserable, grey, “winter is looming, get your woolies out now”, weather today…

The wintry feel brings to my mind the mountains and their glaciers. This summer we witnessed the battles for the glaciers against the problems of global warming in France. Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Europe and attracts many tourists both in summer and in winter to see its picture perfect form and experience life in the outdoors. It has several glaciers on its slopes and this summer the lives of locals and tourist were threatened as a large lake of water was discovered trapped under one of the glaciers.

Take two dozen Olympic swimming pools and you’ll get an idea of the mass of water that threatened to spill from the Tête-Rousse glacier into the valley of Saint-Gervais in the Alps at the end of July. The water was trapped under pressure in a pocket at the bottom of the glacier about 75 meters deep, had no natural drain and therefore could not be emptied without human intervention so an operation was undertaken by the local authorities to drain the potentially dangerous build up.

According to Christian Vincent, a glaciologist at CNRS “Global warming has reduced the thickness of the snowpack on the glacier which could explain the phenomenon. Less protected from the cold winter, the bottom of the cavity cools and does not allow the accumulated water to drain naturally”
At the end of July the state began the dangerous work of putting a security system in place consisting of cables connected to an alert system to warn people in case of explosion of the pocket of water. Then in August the operation to drain the water from the first pocket of water commenced, lasting several weeks and due to finish around now, mid October. “They have to drill between 40m-50m of ice before reaching the water cavity. We are about at 3,200m high, there’s no road, only helicopter access, and it’s also an area prone to avalanches,” said Nicolas Karr from France’s National Forests Office.
Jean-Louis Borloo Minister for Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and the Sea has confirmed that the State has committed a € 1m fund for the prevention of major natural hazards for all operations related to pumping and draining the water supply.

Elsewhere in the Alps, giant tarpaulins were deployed to slow the melting of glacier of the l’Aiguille Rouge glacier, above the ski resort of Les Arcs. In France, this was the first time glaciologists used them, but this is a method already used successfully in Switzerland, Austria and Italy. The idea is that the great expanse of white tarp reflects the sunlight, hence protecting the ice beneath and which then allows the glacier to melt much less than without protection.
According to experts, the retreat of alpine glaciers began centuries ago but has accelerated in recent decades, partly because of rising temperatures. In a hundred years, glaciers have lost an average, almost half of their surface.

We value our mountains and their unique climate very much as tourists. We love them for hiking, biking and camping in summer and we love them in winter for a wide range of winter sports.
There are more and more groups forming around the world with the aim to specifically act, aducate and inform to protect our mountain environments and to preserve them so future generations an continue to benefit as we do.
Specifically in France, Mountain Riders is a not-for-profit French organisation, created in the year 2000, for the promotion of sustainable development in the mountains.
Mountain Riders were recently given a grant from “Protect Our Winters” a US based tax exempt, non-profit organization dedicated to reversing the global warming crisis by uniting the winter sports community and focusing efforts towards a common goal of winter preservation.

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