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High altitude ski resorts get less snowfall

Spring skiing in Austrian resorts like St. Anton or Ischgl could become a thing of the past if a long-term trend discovered by Swiss researchers continues.

High altitude ski resorts get less snowfall
St. Anton ski resort. Photo: 24seven/Wikimedia

In a new study they found that Switzerland has nearly 40 fewer snow days a season than it did in the 1970s, even in high altitude resorts.

The joint study, whose results were published in the Climatic Change journal last week, was carried out by the University of Neuchâtel along with the Federal institute for research on forests, snow and the countryside (WSL) and the Institute for the study of snow and avalanches (SLF).

Until now such studies have mainly focused on winter only, but this one analyzed snow coverage across autumn and spring too, using data from 11 Meteo Suisse weather stations of various altitudes over the period 1970 to 2015.

The study found that all the resorts – both at low and high altitude – saw a shortening of the duration of annual snow cover over the 45-year period.

Overall, snow arrived 12 days later and disappeared 25 days earlier in 2015 than in 1970 – a decrease of 37 snow days at an average of 8.9 days a decade.

The maximum snow depth also reduced by 25 percent over the years, researchers found. And the day on which this maximum is achieved arrives 28 days earlier now than 45 years ago.

The early melting of snow in spring contributed most to the shortening of the season, said the WSL, with the later arrival of snow in autumn being a lesser factor.

Speaking to The Local, the project’s lead researcher, WSL climatologist Professor Martine Rebetez, said while people already knew snow coverage was decreasing at lower altitudes (around 1,500m), “we were surprised to see that it has changed exactly the same at higher elevations”.

Analyzing the 45-year period of data shows a long-term trend linked to rising temperatures caused by climate change, said Rebetez.

Snow cover in the Alps may therefore continue to drop in the future. “What we have seen is that [snow decline] is perfectly coupled with the temperature increase. So it will totally depend on how much temperatures will increase in the coming decades. As we are not doing anything at this point to reduce climate change then the snow [decrease] will just follow the temperature increase,” said Rebetez.

The situation could have a serious impact on ski tourism in the Alps, with the higher resorts which typically offer Spring breaks also affected.

Austrian experts echo the Swiss findings, with the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG) confirming that a higher average temperature rise has been recorded in the Austrian Alps compared to other regions around the world, and that this means that “in principle we can expect a shorter duration of snow cover in the Alps”.

Lack of snow melt could also lead to water shortages in Austria – a recent study by the Vienna University of Agricultural Sciences (BOKU) concluded that water shortages could become a reality in the future as a consequence of climate change and decreasing snowfall.

Earlier this year, Austria’s Environment Minister Andrä Rupprechter (ÖVP) launched a pilot project aimed at helping the country adapt to the effects of climate change, and admitted that global warming is already affecting Austria. Measures include providing more shaded outdoor areas for kindergartens, more public drinking fountains, and sustainable tourism.

According to the International Commission for Alpine Protection (CIPRA), Alpine communities are “not only the victims, but also the causes of the climate problem”. It says that Alpine households and businesses consume energy at a rate far above the European average and are too heavily reliant on cars and other motorized vehicles for transport and deliveries.

 

WILDFIRES

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.

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