The Aletsch Glacier is pictured from the Eggishorn summit in Fiesch, Switzerland, 22 August 2015. One of Europe's biggest glaciers, the Great Aletsch coils 23 km (14 miles) through the Swiss Alps - and yet this mighty river of ice could almost vanish in the lifetimes of people born today because of climate change. The glacier, 900 meters (2,950 feet) thick at one point, has retreated about 3 km (1.9 miles) since 1870 and that pace is quickening. Photo: Denis Balibouse / REUTERS

By Denis Balibouse and Alister Doyle; Editing by Frances Kerry
17 October 2015

(Reuters) – One of Europe's biggest glaciers, the Great Aletsch, coils 23 km (14 miles) through the Swiss Alps - and yet this mighty river of ice could almost vanish in the lifetimes of people born today because of climate change.

The glacier, 900 meters (2,950 feet) thick at one point, has retreated about 3 km (1.9 miles) since 1870 and that pace is quickening, as with many other glaciers around the globe.

That is feeding more water into the oceans and raising world sea levels.

It was only after I got down onto the ice, with spikes on my boots for grip and often roped to my guide for safety, that I appreciated the full scale of the glacier, on the south side of the Jungfraujoch railway station.

We could walk for an hour and not seem to advance across the vast field of ice, which snakes its way downhill striped by debris and rocks, scarred by crevasses and hemmed in by towering mountain peaks.

And yet even the Great Aletsch glacier, the biggest in the Alps and visible from space, is under threat from the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from factories, power plants and cars that are blamed for global warming.

Andreas Vieli, a professor who heads the University of Zurich's group of glaciology experts, said the Aletsch may lose 90 percent of its ice volume by 2100, with the lower reaches melting away.

"My kids are going to see a very different scenery in the Alps," he said.

And on the ice, Aletsch guide Richard Bortis said, "if I stay on the glacier for several days ... I can even see the changes myself." […]

Christian Pletscher, a 60-year-old Aletsch guide, has seen many changes over the years. Pletscher and his 19-year-old daughter recently stopped off at a refreshment hut near the Col de la Forclaz, a mountain pass close to the French border.

"When I was her age, the Trient Glacier was about 500 meters from the hut," he said. "Now the glacier is a long, long way away."

"When I look at the glaciers I think of my children," Pletscher said. "That scares me." [more]

Vast Alpine glacier could almost vanish by 2100 due to warming

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