What Happens When the Glaciers are Gone?

Posted by: John Carey on July 12, 2007

I’m just back from a trip to Switzerland, where among other things, I met with Professor Dr. Martin Grosjean, executive director of the country’s NCCR Climate Management Centre.

Grosjean told me a sobering statistic. During the summer months, 90% of the water in key European rivers, like the Rhone, comes from melting glaciers. The rivers are vital for everything from hydropower and agriculture to water supplies for cities.

But the glaciers are disappearing — fast.

If the Earth warms as much as predicted by climate models, the big European glaciers could be gone in 50 years.

The rivers would dry up to a trickle, at best. The consequences could be enormous.

What's so frustrating, says Grosjean, is that, as yet, no one seems to understand how serious this would be. No one is even trying to figure out how countries could plan for such a future.

It's just one more example of the many profound changes that are expected to occur with a warming world, which will challenge our ability to cope and adapt.

Because it may be gone within decades, my wife and I made sure to visit Switzerland's Aletsch glacier, Europe's largest glacier. It's still an impressive sight....

Aletsch-glacier-resized.JPG

But to Grosjean, who has measured its shrinkage, it's also a very sad sight because of how much it has diminished in size.

Reader Comments

Bob K

August 13, 2007 6:37 PM

400 years ago, the glaciers were advancing so fast that villagers in Switzerland sent out priests to pray to G-d that he stop them before they destoyed their villages. It is exhausting listening to people who think we can stop, reverse, control our climate. I may also add that during the little ice age from 1300-1850 was a time of great upheaval, disease, famine, dislocation, etc. be careful what you wish for. If you wish to discount my comments, I refer you to a fantastic 2 hour documentary on the History channel regarding the little ice age, it was sobering.

Shamay

May 10, 2009 7:59 PM

I understand completely of how serious this situation really is, and I am you're side 100%. I think people need to realize what we all are doing to our earth, and what it will become if we do not change our ways on how we treat it. Glaciers are melting because of climate change caused from human activity. Global warming and pollution is worsening everyday. Glaciers provide a cooling to the atmosphere that saves us humans and every other living creature on our earth from the suns deadly rays. If the glaciers are gone, everything will heat up to a degree where nothing can live on it. I'm sure this is not the kind of future people want. We need to cool the earth, not heat it up. We still have time to reverse climate change and the ways we do things, or else it will be to late. We have the ability to save not only ourselves and the earth, but also the life evolution has given everything that can continue on from generation to generation. The future can be good if we make it good.

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About

BusinessWeek correspondents John Carey and Mark Scott, cover the green scene, keeping on top of the business aspects of energy, the environment and climate change, as well as the technologies, policies, markets and people that are shaping how the earth's resources will be used in the century ahead.

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