Swiss glaciers melting faster than ever before: study

Water flows from a melting glacier in the Swiss Alps in Arolla, near Sion, June 29, 2008. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s glaciers shrank by 12 percent over the past decade, melting at their fastest rate due to rising temperatures and lighter snowfalls, a study by the Swiss university ETH showed Monday.

“The last decade was the worst decade that we have had in the last 150 years. We lost a lot of water,” said Daniel Farinotti, research assistant at the ETH.

“The trend is definitely that glaciers are melting faster now. Since the end of the 1980s, they have lost more and more mass more quickly,” he said.

It was still too early to tell how 2009 will develop for glaciers, which are a key source of water for hydro-electric plants as well as an important tourist attraction, Farinotti said. Up to 6,000 tourists visit the Jungfraujoch glacier every day.

“This year depends on the summer. We had a lot of snow in the winter of 2008/09. But the spring was very warm so I doubt that this year will be a positive year for the glaciers,” Farinotti said.

Swiss glaciers have lost 9 cubic km of ice since 1999, the warmest period of the past 150 years, with the most dramatic decline coming in 2003 when they shrunk by 3.5 percent in 2003.

Researchers are predicting that the temperatures in the Swiss Alps will rise by 1.8 degrees Celsius in winter and by 2.7 degrees Celsius in the summer by 2050.

Reporting by Katie Reid: Editing by Matthew Jones