Austria's glaciers have lost an average of 15 meters in length in just one year - this is confirmed by the current glacier report by the Alpine Association. The unstoppable glacier retreat also shows how urgently the protection of high alpine areas needs to be redefined.

The Alpine Club's glacier measurement team re-measured 92 glaciers across Austria last summer. 85 of them (92,4%) withdrew further in the observation period 2019/2020, only seven (7,6%) remained stationary with a change in length of less than one meter. With an average decline of 15 meters, glacier retreat has remained at a high level in the long term, even in the current statistics.

Although winter precipitation in 2019/20 exceeded the long-term mean in most areas and large parts of the glaciers were covered by snow until July, there was a strong melting in August and September with temperatures of up to + 2 ° Celsius above the average temperature.

The past year of observation is another in a period of drastic glacier retreat that will probably continue for a long time

In addition to the mere changes in length, the glacier knives have registered striking visual changes throughout Austria, which cannot be recorded in figures, but unmistakably document the glacier retreat.

For example, ice-free rock areas, the fragmentation of glaciers, large-scale ice collapse, thinning ice, the formation of collapse funnels, accumulation of debris on the glacier surfaces and the formation of new lakes.

Hornkees: decline of 104 meters

The greatest change in length was measured in 2020 on Hornkees in the Zillertal Alps (Tyrol). This glacier has shortened by 104 meters in just one year. Four other glaciers retreated by at least 50 meters: the Alpeinerferner (Stubai Alps) with 67,2 m, the Pasterze (Glockner group) with 52,5 m, the Gepatschferner (Ötztal Alps) with 51,5 m and the Schlatenkees (Venediger group ) with 50,0 m.

Pasterze shorter by 52,5 meters in one year

Austria's largest glacier, the Pasterze on the Großglockner, recently lost 52,5 meters in length - again an above-average value. Your glacier tongue is still flat in disintegration, as the ice supply from the higher parts of the glacier is decreasing. The Pasterze is one of the glaciers on which the thickness of the ice and the glacier movement are regularly measured. Compared to the previous year, the entire Pasterze glacier tongue has sunk by an average of 6,1 meters - slightly more than in the 2018/2019 measurement period. 

Alpine Association demands glacier protection with no ifs or buts

“The fact that the retreat of the glaciers is a result of rising temperatures cannot be denied. This development can hardly be stopped, the system is too sluggish and the natural areas too sensitive for that. Our glaciers make this slow but steady change understandable in a sad way. As silent memorials of climatic changes, they will probably no longer be recognizable in a few decades ”, says Ingrid Hayek, Vice President of the Austrian Alpine Club.

As silent memorials of climatic changes, they will probably no longer be recognizable in a few decades.

Ingrid Hayek, Vice President of the Austrian Alpine Club

One more reason for the Alpine Association, as a nature conservation organization, to insist not only on glacier protection, but also on the protection of the surrounding high alpine regions. 

Protection status was revoked in 2004

Above all, the Alpine Club is still opposed to the weakening of glacier protection in the Tyrolean Nature Conservation Act. After the absolute protection of the glaciers, the glacier foreland and the moraines in Tyrol had been legally anchored in 1991 and any technical development of glaciers and their catchment areas was prohibited, the comprehensive protection status was revoked in 2004.

In 2006 a “spatial planning program on the protection of glaciers” followed. However, this deliberately excludes areas of ski tourism interest from the protection status - for example that between the glacier ski areas Ötztal and Pitztal, or currently that in Kaunertal.

Glacier protection is needed with no ifs or buts.

Ingrid Hayek, Vice President of the Austrian Alpine Club

“You need glacier protection with no ifs or buts. Protection that also takes into account the current changes in the high mountains. Not only the glaciers themselves, but also the areas affected by the melting are increasingly under pressure. In the context of state law, these are often referred to as 'Alpine wasteland'. But this soil is by no means 'wasted'.

It turns out to be a breeding ground with immeasurable development potential. Glacier protection must therefore be redefined in this context and the broader term glacier must be taken into account in the Environmental Impact Assessment Act, ”says Hayek.

The glacier retreat in numbers (measurement period 2019/2020)

10 strongest declines - length losses in meters:

  1. Hornkees (Zillertal Alps, Tyrol): -104,0
  2. Alpeinerferner (Stubai Alps, Tyrol): -67,2
  3. Pasterze (Glockner Group, Carinthia): -52,5
  4. Gepatschferner (Ötztal Alps, Tyrol): -51,5
  5. Schlatenkees (Venediger Group, Tyrol): -50,0

The average loss in length of the 81 glaciers measured in both 2019 and 2020 was -15 m and is therefore very similar to the previous year's value of -14,3 m (calculated for 84 glaciers).

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