Climate change is shrinking the Morteratsch glacier in Switzerland by around 98 to 131 feet every single year. Scientists led by Johannes Oerlemans of Utrecht University think they have an answer: artificial snow. 4,000 snow machines could recycle water into flakes that could hopefully preserve the famous glacier.
Oerlemans presented the idea in late April at the European Geosciences Union annual meeting. He thinks artificial snow blown over the glacier during the summer could help protect its ice. Sunlight melts that ice, but as Oerlemans said, “as long as there’s snow on top, the ice beneath is unaffected.” According to New Scientist, if artificial snow was put over the glacier, it would be the first attempt in the world to protect a glacier on this large of a scale.
Morteratsch draws tourists every year because its snout, or the end of the glacier, is easy to reach. Oerlemans said, “Locals claim it’s the only place you can reach a glacier from a wheelchair.” But the natural wonder has dwindled from an 1860 length of five miles to 3.7 miles today. Residents of nearby Pontresina asked Oerlemans and other colleagues to save their treasure. They’d heard white fleece coverings on the smaller Diavolezzafirn glacier helped it grow around 26 feet across a decade.
Oerlemans thinks Morteratsch could win back a length of around 2,625 feet in 20 years with some type of covering. A few centimeters of artificial snow fanned across a 0.2 square mile plateau high upon the glacier could help save it, according to the scientist. That may sound like a relatively small area, but it would still take 4,000 snow machines, using water recycled from meltwater lakes near Morteratsch.
Scientists are starting with a pilot project at Diavolezzafirn’s foot. They’ll blow snow over an artificial glacier to see how the method works. If they’re successful, researchers hope the Switzerland government might fund the project with the millions of Euros required for Morteratsch.
Via New Scientist