New climate models have shown that if little is done to curb carbon emissions and slow global warming, about 95% of the ice volume of the glaciers in the European Alps will be lost by the end of the century. Even if warming is limited to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), about two-thirds of the ice will vanish.


The Gorner glacier, located near the Swiss border with Italy in the Monte Rosa massif, is the second largest glacier of the European Alps. A group of scientists in Switzerland has predicted that Alpine glaciers like this one could be reduced to a few patches of ice by 2100 due to global warming.

During the last ice age, Rhône glacier, was the largest glacier of the European Alps, covering much of Switzerland. Since 1856, the ice has retreated 4,600 feet (1,400 meters). To better reflect the sunlight and slow the melting, white blankets (seen at the edge of the glacier) are sometimes draped over the ice.

The Pizol glacier, in northeastern Switzerland, is likely to disappear in the near future. Swiss scientists have predicted that half of the ice volume of glaciers in the Alps will disappear by 2050, regardless of how carbon emissions change over the next several decades.

The Findel glacier, located in the Monte Rosa massif, ends at an altitude of about 8,200 feet (2,500 m). Researchers have estimated that even under an intermediate global warming scenario, there will be no more glaciers at all below 8,200 feet in the Alps by 2100.


“In a bad case, everything will almost be gone,” Harry Zekollari said on April 9, at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) in Vienna. He is a climate scientist with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, told reporters

Even if humans manage to prevent further global warming, the glaciers will still lose half their volume by 2050, Zekollari and his colleagues found. The researchers simulated the evolution of nearly 4,000 individual glaciers in the European Alps with a new computer model. Scientists used 2017 as their baseline year, with the glaciers starting out at a volume of about 24 cubic miles (100 cubic kilometers), or the equivalent of 40 million Olympic-size swimming pools.

The researchers looked at how the glaciers would change based on different global warming scenarios outlined by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013, known as representative concentration pathways, or RCPs.

The researchers found that about 95% of the ice would disappear under the most pessimistic warming scenario, RCP8.5, which projects that the global temperature average could rise by up to 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit (4.8 degrees Celsius) by 2100.

This would mean “you just have some disconnected ice patches at high elevation, but you don’t really have any glaciers anymore,” Zekollari added.