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CLIMATE CRISIS

Germany only has four glaciers left as climate change melts Alpine ice

Germany lost one of its few remaining glaciers this summer as exceedingly warm weather ate away Alpine ice at a faster pace than feared, a scientific report released on Monday showed.

A hiker photographs the remnants of the Northern Schneeferner Glacier on the Zugspitzplatt in July.
A hiker photographs the remnants of the Northern Schneeferner Glacier on the Zugspitzplatt in July. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

The Bavarian Academy of Sciences said the state’s Southern Schneeferner had lost its official status as a glacier due to rapid melting of its once sprawling ice sheet.

“The Schneeferner’s ice thickness shrank significantly in large swathes and in most places no longer measures even two metres (6.5 feet),” the academy said in its latest findings.

It said even the thickest spot was now diminished to less than six metres compared to around 10 metres in 2018. The surface area of the glacier halved during the same period to about one hectare.

READ ALSO: Why it’s a bad year for Germany’s Alpine glaciers 

“That leads us to conclude that the remaining ice will completely melt away in the next one to two years,” the academy said.

It said that the dramatic shrinkage meant that the periodic measurements carried out by the academy since 1892 would now be suspended.

The loss means Germany has only four remaining glaciers: Northern Schneeferner and Hoellentalferner on its highest mountain, the Zugspitze, and Blaueis and Watzmann in the Berchtesgaden Alps.

Rapid glacier melt in the Alps and elsewhere, which experts say is being driven by climate change, has been increasingly closely monitored since the early 2000s.

Bavaria’s environment ministry said last year in a bombshell report that Germany could lose its last glaciers within the decade as climate change gathered pace.

Scientists had previously estimated the glaciers would be around until the middle of the century.

A global study released in April 2021 found nearly all the world’s glaciers are losing mass at an ever-increasing pace, contributing to more than a fifth of global sea level rise this century.

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WEATHER

‘Clear indication of climate change’: Germany logs warmest year on record

Looking at data from 2,000 measuring systems around Germany, the German Weather Service (DWD) said that 2022 marked the warmest year on record through November.

'Clear indication of climate change': Germany logs warmest year on record

“Never since 1881 has the period from January to November in Germany been so warm as in 2022,” said DWD spokesman Uwe Kirsche in a statement on Wednesday.

The average temperature for the first eleven months of 2022 was 11.3C, according to the weather service in Offenbach. The previous high was set in 2020, at 11.1C for this period. 

The temperature average for autumn alone was 10.8 degrees – an entire 2C degrees higher than it was between 1961 to 1990, which is used by meteorologists around the globe as a point of reference. 

Clear indication of climate change

The period from January to October was already the warmest on record, with an average temperature of 11.8C. For meteorologists, autumn ends with November, whereas in calendar terms, it lasts until December 21st. 

It is “a clear indication of climate change;” that the warmest October months of the last 140 years all fall in this millennium, said DWD.

READ ALSO: ‘A glimpse into our climate future’: Germany logs warmest October on record

Autumn 2022 could have easily been mistaken for summer in some regions of Germany, it said. The mercury reached the highest in Kleve on the Lower Rhine on September 5th, where temperatures soared to a sizzling 32.3C.

weather Germany september

Beach goers in Westerland, Schleswig-Holstein on September 25th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Molter

Rainy regions

The mild weather extended into November, before temperatures took a dramatic dip in many parts of the country. 

In the Oberharz am Brocken, the mercury dropped all the way to -11.6C on November 20th, the nationwide low for this autumn.

READ ALSO: Germany to see first snowfall after mild November

But despite the early warm spells, autumn was also “slightly wetter than average,” according to DWD. An average of around 205 liters of precipitation per squar metre fell across Germany.

That was about twelve percent more than in the reference period from 1961 to 1990. Compared to 1991 to 2020, the increase was about eight percent.

The Black Forest and the Alps received the most rainfall. Utzenfeld in the southern Black Forest had the highest daily precipitation in Germany with 86 litres per square meter on October 14th. In contrast, it remained very dry in the northeast. 

However, there were also a fair few bright, sunny days for people to enjoy. According to DWD, the sun shone for a good 370 hours this autumn – almost 20 percent more than in the period from 1961 to 1990 and 15 percent more than in the period from 1991 to 2020.

The North German Lowlands saw the most sun, with residents there getting a solid 400 hours of sunshine over autumn. 

Temperatures to drop this week

Just in time for the start of the meteorological winter on December 1st, temperatures will drop significantly into the low negatives in many parts of the country.

On the weekend, there is a risk of permafrost in some regions of eastern Germany. The nights will also become increasingly frosty, with snow expected in many regions by the end of the week.

Roads are expected to turn icy, but with no major snowstorms, said DWD.

READ ALSO: Will Germany see more snow this winter?

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