Mountain melt shutters classic Alpine routes

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Usually at the height of summer, tourists flock to the Alps and seek out well-trodden paths.

Little snow cover and glaciers melting at an alarming rate amid Europe’s sweltering heatwaves have put some of the most classic Alpine hiking routes off-limits.

Usually at the height of summer, tourists flock to the Alps and seek out well-trodden paths up to some of Europe’s most iconic peaks.

But with warmer temperatures speeding up and thawing permafrost—which scientists say are driven by —routes that are usually safe this time of year now face hazards like falling rocks released from the ice.

“Currently in the Alps, there are warnings for around a dozen peaks, including emblematic ones like Matterhorn and Mount Blanc,” Pierre Mathey, head of the Swiss mountain guide association, told AFP.

This is happening far earlier in the season than normal, he said.

“Usually we see such closures in August, but now they have started at the end of June and are continuing in July.”


Alpine guides who usually lead thousands of hikers up towards Europe’s highest peak announced earlier this week that they would suspend ascents on the most classic routes up Mont Blanc, which straddles France, Italy and Switzerland.

The Guide Alpine Italiane said on its Facebook page that the “particularly delicate conditions” caused by the temperature spike made it necessary to “postpone the climbs”.

Mountain guides have also refrained—reportedly for the first time in a century—from offering tours up the classic route to the Jungfrau peak in Switzerland.

And they have advised against tours along routes on both the Italian and Swiss sides of the towering pyramid-shaped Matterhorn peak.

Mountain guides have also refrained — reportedly for the first time in a century — from offering tours up Jungfrau.

Ezio Marlier, president of the Valle D’Aosta guides association, said having to steer clear of routes most coveted by tourists was a blow after the Covid slowdowns.

“It is not easy… after two almost empty seasons to decide to halt work,” he told AFP.

He stressed that the Italian Alpine region had shut only two and that there were many other breathtaking and safe routes to take.

But he lamented that many people simply cancelled their trip when they heard their preferred was off-limits.

“There are plenty of other things to do, but usually when people want Mont Blanc, they want Mont Blanc.”

Dangerous glaciers

Climbing on some of the thousands of dotting Europe’s largest mountain range is also proving trickier.

“The glaciers are in a state that they are usually in at the end of the summer or even later,” said Andreas Linsbauer, a glaciologist at Zurich University.

“It is sure that we will break the record for negative melts,” he told AFP.

He said a combination of factors were contributing to a “really extreme” summer, starting with exceptionally little snowfall last winter, meaning there was less to protect the glaciers.

Sand also blew up from the Sahara early in the year, darkening the snow, which makes it melt faster.

The rapid melting can make glaciers more dangerous.

And then the first heatwave hit Europe in May, with subsequent ones following in June and July, pushing up temperatures even at .

The rapid melting can make glaciers more dangerous, as seen with the sudden collapse of Italy’s until then seemingly harmless Marmolada glacier earlier this month, which saw 11 people killed as ice and rock hurtled down the mountain.

While scientists have yet to draw clear conclusions on what caused the disaster, one theory is that meltwater may have reached the point where the glacier was frozen to the rock, loosening its grip.

‘Invisible threat’

Mylene Jacquemart, a glacier and mountain hazard researcher at Zurich’s ETH university, told AFP there were many unknowns about the catastrophe.

“But the general theme is definitely that more meltwater… makes things complicated and potentially more dangerous.”

Mathey, who said had put mountain guides on high alert, also voiced concern that meltwater filtering under a glacier posed an “additional and invisible threat”.

But despite the challenges, he voiced confidence that guides would find solutions, seeking out alternative routes to keep showing off Alpine splendours.

“Resilience is really in the guides’ DNA,” as is adaptability, he said.

“Humans have to adapt to nature and to the mountains, not the other way around.”

© 2022 AFP

Mountain melt shutters classic Alpine routes (2022, July 31)
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Faster growth may help bacteria remove lake plastic waste: study

Hexbyte Glen Cove

The impact of plastic pollution in lakes is less well researched than in the oceans.

Chemicals leaking from plastic waste make bacteria grow faster in European lakes, according to research published Tuesday that authors said could provide a natural way to remove plastic pollution from freshwater ecosystems.

Microplastics have been found in virtually every corner of the globe—from the highest glaciers to the bottom of the deepest sea trench—but the impact of in lakes is less well researched than in oceans.

When such as carrier bags break down in water, they release simple carbon compounds slightly different to those produced when such as twigs and leaves disintegrate.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge wanted to see what effect these compounds had on populations in 29 lakes across Scandinavia.

They cut up from four major British shopping chains and mixed them with water until the carbon compounds were released.

They then filled glass bottles with water from each lake, mixing a small amount of the plastic water into half of these samples.

In the water with plastic-derived compounds, the bacteria had doubled in mass within 72 hours and already absorbed around half of the carbon present in the samples.

Overall, they found that the bacteria in the plastic water samples grew nearly twice as easily (1.72 times) as the lake bacteria with no plastic water added.

Andrew Tanentzap, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences, said the study showed the profound impact plastic pollution is likely having on bodies of freshwater where the waste is present.

“It’s almost like the plastic pollution is getting the bacteria’s appetite going,” he said.

“This suggests that plastic pollution is stimulating the whole food web in lakes, because more bacteria means more food for the bigger organisms like ducks and fish.”

The study examined how bacteria react to plastic carbon compounds in lakes with different depths, locations, and organic matter content.

It showed that bacteria were better at removing plastic pollution in lakes with fewer unique natural carbon compounds because there were fewer natural food sources.

The results suggested that in some places, specific types of bacteria could be harnessed to help break down .

“But you’d want to know more about the ecosystem balance before committing to doing that,” first study author Eleanor Sheridan told AFP.

She also cautioned against assuming that bacteria alone could solve the growing ecological disaster posed by plastic waste.

Plastics are “not only damaging to ecosystems on a macro level, they also contain chemicals that leach out and last beyond when a is fished out of the water,” Sheridan said.

“I hope that this increases awareness of the multitude of different effects that just one type of pollution can have on the environment.”

More information:
Eleanor Sheridan, Plastic pollution fosters more microbial growth in lakes than natural organic matter, Nature Communications (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-31691-9.

© 2022 AFP

Faster growth may help bacteria remove lake plastic waste: study (2022, July 30)
retrieved 30 July 2022

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