30 Year, 100m Swiss Franc Plan to Save a Swiss Glacier

A Swiss glaciologist, Felix Keller, has an ambitious plan to save the Morteratsch Glacier, the third largest and by volume the most massive glacier in the Eastern Alps, from melting away.

Keller is concerned that rapid glacier melt caused by climate change will mean that the gradual melt water relied upon by Switzerland for water supplies (57 billion cubic meters of water are stored as ice in the glaciers at present) will eventually disappear with serious consequences for the country.

The Morteratsch Glacier has been studied in detail by university teams since 1994 and is one of the world’s best-studied glaciers. Keller calculated that in order to stop the current rate of decline about ten percent of the glacier area would need to be covered with snow in summer, which should result in the glacier starting to grow again after about ten years.  This would be a sensation against the global trend of accelerating rapid glacier melt caused by climate change.

The problem was that the dimensions for such an initiative are gigantic, with a million square metres in total needing to be covered with snow, requiring 30,000 tons of snow being added every day.

Keller is undeterred and after several years of considering the possibilities, has come up with a way to do it, which he believes will work. His plan involves creating snow with a snowmaking system patented in Switzerland that does not require electricity, with the snow constantly transported up on to the glacier by lifts.  Enough snow would be produced and delivered to meet the huge amounts required. The cost of the entire project is estimated at CHF 100 million, spread over the next 30 years.

Applications for funding will soon be made and a prototype, created in cooperation with industrial partners, is planned, to demonstrate its practical feasibility.

“That’s just a few million francs a year. If this can prevent even a river from drying out in one of the next dry summers, that would be well invested money,” said Keller, who says the most important thing is to tackle climate change properly in the first place.

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