The heat waves in summer 2022 hit the Swiss glaciers massively. At the beginning of summer, the glaciers were already bare up to around 3000 meters, sometimes even higher. In the high altitudes of the Alps, early summer looked like mid-August normally. 

This year, an intense heat wave hit the Alpine region as early as May. The result was a rapid melting of snow and glaciers, which progressed at a high level in the summer.

"Since the glaciers are already snow-free in June up to altitudes of around 3000 meters, a lot of the ice has melted away."

Björn Goldhausen, spokesman and meteorologist from WetterOnline

The second warmest May since 1864 was recorded in Switzerland. In June, too, there were many days with temperatures above 30 degrees in the valleys. The snow that has fallen sparsely this year has been melting rapidly since May and no longer protected the ice from the heat radiation during the summer months.

Around 30 years ago, this part of Zermatt's glacier ski area was still used for skiing all summer long. This is no longer possible. Source: WetterOnline, photo: Dr. David Volken
Around 30 years ago, this part of Zermatt's glacier ski area was still used for skiing all summer long. This is no longer possible. Source: WetterOnline, photo: Dr. David Volken

As a result, many lower-lying glacier tongues, such as the Gorner, Fiescher or Aletsch glaciers, were snow-free at an unusually early stage at the end of May at altitudes of up to 2500 metres. In the summer, the melt continued unabated.

Since the glaciers are already snow-free up to altitudes of around 3000 meters, a lot of the ice melted away in early summer. Accordingly, the high altitudes of the Alps already presented themselves in June/July as in an average August.

5,7 billion liters of water run off every day

The lack of meltwater due to the record-breaking lack of snow leads to drought and low water levels. The ice flows in the Alps are shrinking. The cooling system thus loses power. The accelerated loss of freshwater supplies due to large amounts of runoff leads, among other things, to a decline in biodiversity and the landscape of the Alps is also changing.

The Driest Glacier above the Great Aletsch Glacier in the canton of Valais is already snow-free in June. Source: WetterOnline, photo: Dr. David Volken
The Driest Glacier above the Great Aletsch Glacier in the canton of Valais was already snow-free in June. Source: WetterOnline, photo: Dr. David Volken

According to climate expert and meteorologist Dr. David Volken, for example, the peak discharge on the Great Aletsch Glacier on the afternoon of June 20, 2022 was 82.000 liters of water per second. The daily average was still 66000 liters per second. This would correspond to an outflow of 5,7 billion liters of water per day. In comparison, that would be the amount of water in a full 0,7 liter bottle for every person on earth every day.

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Credits: Cover picture Armin Kübelbeck, CC-BY-SA, Text Weather Online

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