Forty Years of Glacial Recession

Bossons-Glacier-Recession_imagelargeThis time last year, with very little snow in the Alps, the UK media was full of reports of global warming, the end of skiing as we know it, and general doom and gloom. Something MUST be done…

Just 12 months later, with a major dump just a couple of weeks before Christmas, and then some minor top-ups, all of a sudden the heat is off and we don’t have to worry any more, right?

It’s true that snow cover is average for the time of year, but personal observation is that it’s really warm. Yesterday, on the 26th January, the freezing level rose to 3000m! To put this into perspective, I was chatting with a Swiss guide at this time last year during that “temporary” crisis period, and he was saying that, when he started guiding 20 years ago, they wouldn’t go on mixed routes in the summer if the freezing level rose above 3000m.

To underscore the speed of this change, I came across one of my earliest photos, taken in 1968, of my two brothers below the Bossons glacier in the Chamonix Valley. Out of curiosity, I went back to try and duplicate the photo and get an idea of the glacial recession in my lifetime so far. To see this photo in full size, click here.

As you can see, the results are pretty impressive. To put some scale on it, the height interval of glacier you can see is about 1500m and the glacier is about 1 km across at its widest. it has shrunk about 150m in width on both sides, and this in just 40 years.

So it’s pretty clear that glacial recession, and therefore global warming, is a reality. Opinion is divided as to whether this is due to human activities or just part of the natural cycle. To help you make up your mind, I would strongly recommend a viewing of An Inconvenient Truth. Even among my guiding clients, there are some who don’t really believe in global warming, and there are some who criticise me for even offering heli-skiing due to its high carbon footprint.

I’m lucky enough to live and work in a beautiful natural environment, yet that very activity is arguably damaging. So I try to live in as sensible a way as possible. I hope, for the sake of mountains and mountaineering, that you do too.