German glaciers show surprise resilience in climate change impact

The glaciers situated in Germany, specifically those located on the Zugspitze and in the Watzmann region, have shown more resilience than anticipated during the summer despite the overall trend of decline attributed to the effects of climate change.

They have retained their status as glaciers for the time being, although scientists say they cannot be saved. According to forecasts by researchers from the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BAdW), the last of the formerly “eternal” ice will have disappeared in around 15 years.

According to new measurements by BAdW scientists, the Watzmann and Blaueis glaciers near Berchtesgaden, in particular, have lost comparatively little surface area this summer. The ice volume is still being analyzed. Measuring the ice cover is complex.

“We are currently analyzing the data – and it looks like we didn’t have such a bad summer for the glaciers in Berchtesgaden,” said glaciologist Christoph Mayer from the BAdW, which compiles a glacier report for the state government every few years.

“We still had snow on the glaciers in Berchtesgaden at the end of the season, at least in places.”

Snow reflects the sunlight and thus protects the ice. The cold spring with late snowfall likely also contributed to the slow melting.

The situation is worse this year on Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze.

“The areas on the Höllentalferner and the Nördlicher Schneeferner have become significantly smaller,” said Mayer. The Northern Schneeferner, in particular, has suffered. While the Höllentalferner and the Berchtesgaden glaciers tend to be in the shade, it is very exposed to the sun.

In July, representatives of the Protestant and Catholic churches organized a requiem for the Nördliche Schneeferner in the Church of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary on the Zugspitzplatt – as a wake-up call to the climate crisis and the dangers to nature and humanity.

With pictures of the dying glacier with its dirty gray ice, prayers and a blessing, the faithful commemorated its expected demise – although it still has an estimated seven years before it loses its glacier status.

Last year, experts stripped the Südlicher Schneeferner of its status as Germany’s fifth glacier. At around 1.5 hectares big – about two football pitches – it was half the size it had been four years previously. And it was no longer flowing, which is a criterion for categorization as a glacier.

Diminishing snowfall is, alongside general warming, a key factor in the ever-faster disappearance of the ice.

“The less snow we have, the less a glacier is protected,” said Laura Schmidt, science communicator at the Schneefernerhaus environmental research station on the Zugspitze.

This year, the warm September and October – the warmest since measurements began on the Zugspitze – have taken their toll on the ice.

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