Austria's glaciers have lost an average of 15 meters in length in just one year - this is confirmed by the current glacier report by the Alpine Association. With a shortening of 104 meters, the greatest change in length was measured on the Hornkees in the Zillertal Alps (Tyrol). Despite the relatively snowy and therefore glacier-friendly winter, the hot summer again hit the ice masses heavily in the observation period 2019/2020. The unstoppable glacier retreat also shows how urgently the protection of high alpine areas needs to be redefined.
Glaciers in retreat: figures from the current glacier report
Last summer, the Alpine Club's glacier measurement team re-measured 92 glaciers across Austria. 85 of them (92.4%) withdrew further in the observation period 2019/2020, only seven (7.6%) remained stationary with a change in length of less than one meter. With an average decline of 15 meters, glacier retreat has remained at a high level in the long term, even in the current statistics. Although winter precipitation in 2019/20 exceeded the long-term mean in most areas and large parts of the glaciers were covered by snow until July, there was a strong melting in August and September with temperatures of up to + 2 ° Celsius above the average temperature. "The past year of observation is another in a period of drastic glacial retreat,
In addition to the mere changes in length, the glacier knives have registered striking visual changes throughout Austria, which cannot be recorded in numbers, but unmistakably document the glacier retreat: For example, rock areas that are becoming ice-free, the fragmentation of glaciers, large-scale ice collapse, thinning ice, formation of collapse funnels, Accumulation of debris on the glacier surfaces and the formation of new lakes.
The greatest change in length was measured in 2020 on Hornkees in the Zillertal Alps (Tyrol). This glacier has shortened by 104 meters in just one year. Four other glaciers retreated by at least 50 meters: the Alpeinerferner (Stubai Alps) with 67.2 m, the Pasterze (Glockner group) with 52.5 m, the Gepatschferner (Ötztal Alps) with 51.5 m and the Schlatenkees (Venediger group ) with 50.0 m.
Pasterze shorter by 52.5 meters in one year
Austria's largest glacier, the Pasterze on the Großglockner, recently lost 52.5 meters in length - again an above-average value. Your glacier tongue is still flat in disintegration, as the ice supply from the higher parts of the glacier is decreasing. The Pasterze is one of the glaciers on which the thickness of the ice and the glacier movement are regularly measured. Compared to the previous year, the entire glacier tongue of the Pasterze has sunk by an average of 6.1 meters - a little more than in the measurement period 2018/2019.
Alpine Association demands glacier protection with no ifs or buts
“The fact that the retreat of the glaciers is a result of rising temperatures cannot be denied. This development can hardly be stopped, the system is too sluggish and the natural areas too sensitive for that. Our glaciers make this slow but steady change understandable in a sad way. As silent memorials of the climatic changes, they will probably no longer be recognizable in a few decades ”, Ingrid Hayek, Vice President of the Austrian Alpine Club, points out.
One more reason for the Alpine Association, as a nature conservation organization, to insist not only on glacier protection, but also on the protection of the surrounding high alpine regions.
Above all, the Alpine Club is still opposed to the weakening of glacier protection in the Tyrolean Nature Conservation Act. After the absolute protection of the glaciers, the glacier foreland and the moraines in Tyrol had been legally anchored in 1991 and any technical development of glaciers and their catchment areas was prohibited, the comprehensive protection status was revoked in 2004. In 2006 a “spatial planning program on the protection of glaciers” followed. However, this deliberately excludes areas of ski tourism interest from the protection status - for example that between the glacier ski areas Ötztal and Pitztal, or currently that in Kaunertal.
“You need glacier protection with no ifs or buts. Protection that also takes into account the current changes in the high mountains. Not only the glaciers themselves, but also the areas affected by the melting are increasingly under pressure. In the context of state law, these are often referred to as 'Alpine wasteland'. But this soil is by no means 'wasted'. It turns out to be a breeding ground with immeasurable development potential. Glacier protection must therefore also be redefined in this context and the broader term glacier must be taken into account in the Environmental Impact Assessment Act, ”says Hayek.
Via the glacier measurement service of the Alpine Club
The Alpine Club's glacier measuring service has been observing local glaciers for 130 years and meticulously recording their changes in length. In addition, measurements of the flow velocities and the surface height are carried out on some glaciers. In the current reporting year 2019/2020, 23 volunteer glacier knives with around 70 accompanying persons under the direction of Gerhard Lieb and Andreas Kellerer-Pirklbauer from the Institute for Geography and Spatial Research at the University of Graz were on duty for the Alpine Club. They examined 92 glaciers in twelve mountain groups across Austria - from the Dachstein Mountains to the Silvretta.