Pyrenean Glaciers melting away

This summer the ice fall of the Petit Vignemale has been disintegrating. It is the last in the Pyrenees and it illustrates the spectacular retreat of the regions glaciers over the last century. In the same range this summer the ice in the couloir du Clot de la Hount has also melted. A classic mixed ice and rock route on the north face of the Vignemale, the couloir de Gaube has also dried out.

glacier d'Ossoue
Glacier d’Ossoue

However 97 year old local guide François Boyrie remembers the same conditions in the long, hot summer of 1947. He predicted that there would be no glaciers left in the Pyrenees by 2000 but seems to have been out by a generation.. In the intervening years the Pyrenean glaciers even saw some advances from 1978 to 1984. This was but a brief respite, since the end of the little ice age in the 19th century the area covered by ice has shrunk from 45 sq. km. in 1870 to just 5 km. sq. by 2000.

The glacier d’Ossoue runs from 3230 to 2700 m over 1.5km. A minnow compared to Chamonix’s 14km mer de glace. However between the Ariège and the Hautes-Pyrénées there are still 28 glaciers that merit the name. The largest is in the Maladeta range on the Spanish side of the border and cover 60 hectares. Locals say that the disappearance of this stock of water has accelerated since the mid-80s and blame global warming. Guide Jean-Louis Lechêne remembers how the glacier de Las Nèous in the Arrens valley practically disappeared over 5 years in the 80s. Now you can climb to the 3000m summits on the Atlantic side of the mountains as late as November without seeing a trace of ice. Another guide, Gigi Bergès agrees with this sad picture stating that the couloirs Swan (Gavarnie) and Ossau which used to be summer routes are barely practical in the spring. Less snow, less accumulations, less ice and less water in the summer. The Ossoue loses 175cm of depth a year, if you take into account that it is only 50 meters at its thickest its life is strictly limited. However it should also be remembered that during the climate optimum in the early middle ages the Pyrenees were also ice free.


Posted by davidof on Saturday, 03 November, 2007 at 06:47 PM

Melting of glaciers can lead to flooding of rivers and to the formation of glacial meltwater lakes, which may pose an even more serious threat.

Posted by Emo on  Thursday, 08 November, 2007  at 09:39 AM

That’s right

In 1892 the lake of the glacier de Tête Rousse burst emptying some 200,000 m3 of water and killing 200 people in Saint-Gervais.

Posted by davidof on  Thursday, 08 November, 2007  at 11:31 AM
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