Climate change may not just been less snow, it could completely reconfigure some off piste and back-country routes. Typical is glaciated terrain above 2500 meters. The North Face of the Grande Motte is a popular off piste route in the ski resort of Tignes. At around 6.30pm on the 17th of September members of the piste patrol and other resort staff who were preparing the area for the new season were surprised by an enormous serac collapse.
A large area of the mountain detached from the glacier and slide downhill. The aerosol created by the slide finished near the bottom of the pistes. The slide has formed an ice-fall 30 meters high in the middle of the face. Experts have warned that the area is still unstable. Although serac falls are a regular phenomena the size of this event was surprising and may be linked to faster flow rates of the glacier, essentially a slow moving ice river, due to warmer average temperatures. In June 2005 the lower part of the Glacier d’Argentière close to Chamonix collapsed. A front of over 200 meters with 400,000 cubic meters of ice broke away from the mountain.
It is not just glacial routes that are threatened. Mid mountain trails are getting clogged with brushwood and small trees. This is partly due to changing use of the mountains with less agriculture and tree felling. However Pierre Salomez, a researcher with the Ecrins National Parc says that the treeline will climb 700 meters by the end of the century. That could mean most of the Alps covered with dense forests.
According to the French Electricity Generator, EDF. The Mer de Glace glacier has receded 150 meters since 1850 and its depth has reduced from 230 to 120 meters. Skiers tackling the popular Vallee Blanche route now have to climb a series of steps to reach the Montenvers cable car which was once level with the glacier. It is not just skiers that are affected. The EDF will shortly have to move its “Bois” hydroelectric generator installed in the 1970s. The Bois generates 115 million kWh of electricity per year from the Mer de Glace’s melt-water. It is served by its own private cable car with a 1700 meter underground tunnel and cost 20 million euros to build. It provides enough electricity to power a town of 40,000 people. Situated at 1500 meters altitude, the Mer de Glace was 200 meters thick in 1970, now only a few meters of ice remains.
The EDF say they never thought in 1970 that the glacier would melt so far in just four decades. The EDF is currently looking at relocating the “Bois” to a site 700 meters high up. However glacier expert Christian Vincent from Grenoble University says this won’t be enough. “The glacier is receding 30 meters per year. In the next 20 years it will loose 600 to 900 meters”. In the short term EDF will have to find a solution to keep the current Bois plant running, next spring it will install pipework to bring water from the glacier to the generators. Each meter cubed of melt-water produces a kilowatt of electricity, enough to power 100 low energylight-bulbs for an hour. Apart from some workers in hard hats and lumberjack jackets skiers tackling the Vallee Blanche next year will be unaware of the work going on below their feet.
Posted by davidof
on Monday, 13 October, 2008 at 11:24 PM
The mountains are changing really fast. I have lived 8 years abroad and coming back to France I wanted to share with my children ascents I had done before. I brought them based on my memories but it was a totally different environment. Some routes just don’t exist any more, some have changed from snow and ice to rock…
The good news is that with the current trend of ski width, we should be able to transition smoothly from snow to water skiing
Posted by ericlodi
on Tuesday, 14 October, 2008 at 07:05 PM
Posted by on Wednesday, 15 October, 2008 at 04:42 PM
Marmottes and other alpine animals are now starting to be considered threatened for this reason - rising tree lines are expected to reduce the habitat of many alpine flora and fauna.
I don’t think anyone will be water skiing - more like rock skiing. The water supply in many of the alpine resorts depends upon glacial melt. Without this meltwater in summer some of the valleys could even become uninhabitable ...
Not really anything to look forward to.
Posted by on Thursday, 16 October, 2008 at 01:29 AM
> Marmottes and other alpine animals are now starting to be considered threatened for this reason
Yes, that should be the biggest worry? Can nature adept quickly enough to man?
The avalanches on the Tacul are maybe other warnings. A French guy emailed me saying that the vanishing snow lower down the mountain is increasing glacier flow rates and this is why many glaciated routes are becoming more dangerous. He thinks the Grande Motte is far too dangerous to be tackled this winter as the who upper ice shelf is in danger of breaking away plus there is a risk of falling on ice that will not be far from the surface. The melt is also increasing the risk of rock fall (cf Eiger north face)
Posted by davidof
on Thursday, 16 October, 2008 at 10:28 AM
I agree......I don’t think anyone will be water skiing - more like rock skiing. The water supply in many of the alpine resorts depends upon glacial melt. Without this meltwater in summer some of the valleys could even become uninhabitable ...
Posted by on Friday, 21 November, 2008 at 08:49 PM
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