Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Changing Alpine landscape: Lakes are replacing glaciers

Date:
September 13, 2012
Source:
Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Foerderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung
Summary:
Lakes will soon replace glaciers as a characteristic element of the Alpine landscape. A study has now analyzed the potential of these lakes (present and future) in terms of tourism, hydro-electric power and natural dangers.

The suspension bridge on the path to the Trift mountain hut has become a tourist attraction.
Credit: Image courtesy of Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Foerderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung

Lakes will soon replace glaciers as a characteristic element of the Alpine landscape. A study within the National Research Programme "Sustainable Water Management" (NRP 61) analysed the potential of these lakes (present and future) in terms of tourism, hydro-electric power and natural dangers.

As a result of climate change, Alpine glaciers are retreating. Today, they lose 2-3% of their surface area and volume each year. At this rate, there will be only very few remaining glaciers at high altitude by the end of the 21st century. Their retreat often leads to the formation of new mountain lakes.

More than a few puddles

A study by the Federal Office of the Environment concluded that the retreat of Alpine glaciers will create 500-600 basins susceptible to becoming lakes. Their total surface area might be between 50 and 60 square kilometres -- the lake of Thun, in comparison, has a surface area of 47 square kilometres. The depth of some of these lakes will surpass 100 meters and their volume will be greater than 10 million cubic meters, comparable with a medium-sized reservoir.

As part of NRP 61, researchers of the universities of Zurich and Berne as well as the EPF Lausanne studied this transformation of the Alpine landscape -- which will see the Konkordiaplatz of the Aletsch Glacier being replaced by a lake -- with regard to tourism, hydro-electric power and natural dangers. In one case study, researchers focused on Lake Trift in the Valley of Gadmen (Bernese side of the Susten Pass).

This lake appeared towards the end of the 1990s behind a glacial barrier and interrupted the path leading to the Trift mountain hut. To avoid the obstacle, the local authorities built a breathtaking suspension bridge, whose design was inspired by Nepalese rope bridges. This new bridge quickly became a tourist attraction. At this point, the Kraftwerke Oberhasli AG (KWO -- hydro-electric power company in the Grimsel area) re-activated an old cable car to bring tourists up to the area of the bridge. The mountain hut has received many more visitors as a result. While the retreating glacier represents an irreplaceable loss in terms of landscape, the loss in terms of tourism has been more than compensated by the attractive combination of glacier, lake and bridge. But what will happen once the glacier has disappeared completely in a few decades?

Limiting conflicts of interest

The new lake also has the potential of generating hydro-electric power. By building a dam at the level of the glacial barrier, the lake could be enlarged and integrated into the system of dams at the Grimsel (run by KWO). By considering the local hydrology and its evolution in the context of climate change, the researchers performed a quantitative analysis of several options -- from simple seasonal reservoir to integration into the existing turbine-pump-infrastructure -- and their impact in terms of hydro-electric power production. Irrespective of the chosen option, if a dam were built, it would considerably lessen the attractiveness of the site for tourists.

Whether the lake remains natural or becomes artificial, there is a significant risk of rock or ice avalanches due to the longterm destabilisation of slopes previously supported by the Trift glacier and the potential collapse of the current glacier tongue. Such avalanches can trigger a surge wave in the lake with disastrous consequences. The construction of a dam of adequate size could protect the area from floods and allow for the generation of power but it would reduce the appeal for tourists.

Legal questions regarding ownership and responsibility with regard to these new lakes are difficult to answer and the researchers urgently recommend integrated studies of the various lakes. The aim of such studies would be to develop visions focusing on the intelligent and sustainable use of the new lakes and landscapes. This will be particularly relevant in view of the renewal of concessions for many dams.

Reference: Wilfried Haeberli, Michael Bütler, Christian Huggel, Hansruedi Müller, Anton Schleiss, Frédéric Jordan, Therese Lehmann, Matthias Künzler, Yvonne Schraub, Stéphane Terrier (2012). Neue Seen als Folge der Entgletscherung im Hochgebirge: Klimaabhängige Bildung und Herausforderungen für eine nachhaltige Nutzung (NELAK). Forschungsbericht NFP 61.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Foerderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Foerderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung. "Changing Alpine landscape: Lakes are replacing glaciers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 September 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120913084626.htm>.
Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Foerderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung. (2012, September 13). Changing Alpine landscape: Lakes are replacing glaciers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120913084626.htm
Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Foerderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung. "Changing Alpine landscape: Lakes are replacing glaciers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120913084626.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) — He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) — The United Nations says water is a human right, but should it be free? Detroit has cut off water to residents who can't pay, and the U.N. isn't happy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

3BL Media (Oct. 20, 2014) — Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-fuel Impala Video provided by 3BL
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) — Suni, a rare northern white rhino at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, died Friday. This, as many media have pointed out, leaves people fearing extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins