That is what scientists at Zurich’s ETH technical university recently set out to discover, and the results do not make for happy reading.
According to the projections, the absolute best-case scenario is that the 23-kilometre long glacier – the largest in the Alps – will lose 'only’ half of its ice volume and length by the end of this century.
But that will only happen if global warming is keep below 2C and there is a huge reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
“Even in this case, we have to assume that the Aletsch Glacier will keep retreating until the end of the century,” said study co-author Guillaume Jouvet from the ETH’s Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology in comments on the university's website.
This is because large glaciers react slowly to climate change.
Together with fellow team member Matthias Huss, Jouvet created 3D computer models of the complex Aletsch Glacier system in a bid to see what different levels of climate change would mean.
In the extreme example of a 4–8C rise in Swiss temperatures, the glacier would be all but gone by 2100, the study published in the Journal of Glaciology shows.
It also suggests that even if the Swiss climate were to hypothetically remain as it has been for the last 30 years, the Aletsch would still lose more than a third of its volume by the end of the century.
On the other hand, if the climate of the last ten years is taken as a reference point, more than 50 percent of the glacier would disappear.
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