Deadly Glacier Collapse in Italy Shows Reach of Europe's New Heat

CANAZEI, Italy – Days before a glacier in the Italian Dolomites broke away with the force of a collapsing skyscraper, crushing at least ...


CANAZEI, Italy – Days before a glacier in the Italian Dolomites broke away with the force of a collapsing skyscraper, crushing at least 10 hikers under an avalanche of ice, snow and rocks, Carlo Budel heard water running under the ice.

“I heard what sounded like a torrent of river,” said Mr Budel, who lives in a remote refuge next to the glacier at 11,000ft. Marmolada Mountain. At the base of the mountain, he saw a yellow helicopter hovering overhead looking for signs of life or remains.

Mr Budel recalled that when he first climbed the glacier in late summer, just a decade ago, he hardly needed ropes, there was so much snow.

“The difference between now and then is frightening,” he said. “At this point, we are on another path.”

It is an increasingly common route for a world facing the deadly consequences of extreme weather caused by man-made and irreversible climate change.

One year later Greece has lost lives, livestock and swaths of forest forest fires, and deadly floods swept through Germanythe calamity in these mountains this week has provided the latest evidence that almost no part of the continent can escape the effects of Europe’s new, intense and often unlivable The heat of summer. This includes the highest peak in the Dolomites.

Italy is suffering another prolonged and scorching heatwave, which contributed to the disaster and caused the worst drought in 70 years along the Po, its longest waterway, cutting off fountains and parching parts of the country .

“These kinds of events, they are becoming more and more frequent, and they will be more frequent with increased global warming,” said Susanna Corti, coordinator of the Global Change unit at the Italian National Research Council.

Dr Corti said if temperatures continue to rise, ‘we won’t have any more glaciers’ in the Alps, a dramatic change over the last million years in Europe, with huge and unpredictable consequences for the shape continent, vegetation, animal life and the water cycle.

Dr Corti said glaciers needed to be monitored more carefully because “the risk of this type of event is increasing” and because things “won’t go back to the way they were”.

Professor Massimiliano Fazzini, climate expert with the Italian Society for Environmental Geology, said Italy currently has around 920 glaciers, almost entirely in the Alps, although only 70 of them are monitored each year by the Committee Italian glacier.

Their supply of melted snow and ice varied considerably from year to year, but the water that came from them was generally used to fill artificial lakes that provided electricity or to direct water to rivers in times of drought. Over the past 20 years, Prof Fazzini said, Italy has lost 25% of the water from these shrinking glaciers.

On Wednesday, as the ominous roar of helicopters buzzed over the village of Canazei, with its pretty alpine houses selling cheese and chocolate, authorities took up residence under the mountain, known as the queen of the Dolomites, and took announced that aid workers had recovered the remains of two other people spotted by drones. That brought the death toll from Sunday’s avalanche to 10 people, with at least four identified as Italians, with one person still missing.

“We are doing everything we can to find these people,” said Maurizio Fugatti, president of the province of Trento.

They were victims of what Prime Minister Mario Draghi called “the deterioration of the environment and the climatic situation”. Italian President Sergio Mattarella, speaking in Mozambique on Tuesday, said it was “a symbol of what climate change, if left ungoverned, is producing in the world”.

“There is no hope without everyone’s cooperation,” Mattarella said.

The Dolomites of northeastern Italy, with their jagged peaks, the fresh air scented by the sawn logs of the dense alpine forests, their hills gurgling with clear creeks, have long offered Italy and the whole Europe a respite from the summer heat. But now they, too, are warming up, with the heatwave pushing temperatures on the usually freezing mountains to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

This helped melt ice on a glacier which, from 2004 to 2015, had already shrunk by 30% in volume, according to a 2019 study by the Italian National Research Council and International Universities. The researchers predicted the disappearance of the glacier in 25 to 30 years.

Other experts have said that up to half of the glaciers in the Alps could disappear by 2050, and a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts this year irreversible loss of glaciers at the end of this century.

The consequences are disastrous for human life, the environment and local economies. The melting even shifts national borders, which have often been drawn along glacial lines.

“Climate change,” Franco Narducci, an Italian politician, told parliament recently, has contributed to “the erosion and contraction of glaciers” and forced the country to rethink the way it draws its borders.

The most notable example is the Rifugio Guide del Cervino, a traditional mountain hostel in the Pennine Alps on the border with Switzerland near the Matterhorn. A melting glacier has moved the refuge further towards Switzerland, causing a bureaucratic headache for the owner, who wants to stay in Italy, and an unexpected diplomatic headache for both countries.

But now the pain is most acute in Canazei, the town in Italy’s Trentino region that sits in the shadow of the mountain.

On Tuesday, as journalists waited for helicopters to bring the region’s president to a press conference, Debora Campagnaro, whose sister Erica Campagnaro and brother-in-law Davide Miotti were still missing, took advantage of the press conference to castigate local authorities for not installing detection and warning devices that would have prevented people from approaching the glacier.

“My brother-in-law was an extremely expert alpine guide,” she said. “If he had only had one danger sign, he wouldn’t have left with my sister. Husband and wife would not have left two children at home,” she said, her voice cracking.

Given the heat of the previous days, Ms Campagnaro said, someone was to blame for not doing something. But as she walked out of the crowd and back to her car, she said there was another guilty: “The decisive things.”

In a grassy field at the foot of the mountain, marked off with police tape, there was only a blue Dacia with Czech Republic plates. A sun visor shone in the bright sun on his windshield and a gray T-shirt and a spare pair of socks waited in the back. It belonged, says Mr. Fugatti, to one of the mountain’s missing or dead.

So far, only drones and helicopters have surveyed the landslide site. The Italian National Alpine and Underground Rescue Corps considers the glacier to be unstable and too dangerous to explore on foot.

They also warned of the possibility of finding old ammunition. Glaciers played a frontline role in the First World War between Austria-Hungary and Italy, when Austro-Hungarian soldiers dug tunnels deep in the ice. Retreating glaciers have occasionally exposed the remains of soldiers.

As technicians began outfitting the area around the glacier with radar to detect disturbances, hikers in T-shirts and with water bottles sweated on the trails below the mountain.

“When the glacier melts, everyone will feel it, even below,” says Anna Lazzari, 45, who came with her two children.

His brother, Giampaolo Domidi, who has been hiking in the area for 40 years, said the change in temperature since his youth was dramatic and he wore a fleece on his belt essentially as a memento from another era.

Mr Domidi said he was “deeply worried” that global warming would make it impossible for his nephew and niece, who were sweating and exhausted next to him, to appreciate the natural wonders he grew up with.

And on the winding roads approaching the mountain and the glacier-fed lake above, drivers got out of their cars to watch what the landslide had caused.

“They’ll never find anyone,” said Egidio Nicoletto, 74, shielding his eyes as he gazed up at the steep cliff.

“Pieces, maybe,” said biker Raymond Oberhofer, 70.

Mr Nicoletto said he and his wife had a summer house nearby and that 30 years ago he skied on the glacier, even in the summer. “Everything was snowy, a completely different landscape,” he said. From their house, he said, they could see the majestic Marmolada peak, but each year “it was always less white”.

The problem, he noted, is everywhere, even in the province of Venice, where he lives. The rains have slowed there. “In Venice,” he says. “We don’t even know what water is anymore.

In the days leading up to the fatal slide, Mr Budel posted a video on social media, where he has tens of thousands of followers. “Poor Marmolada Glacier,” he wrote in the caption. “This year, this glacier is going to take such a hit.”

Sitting in a woolen hat thousands of feet below his shelter, he said the lack of snow during the winter had left the glacier exposed and he found it in worse condition in mid-June than last August.

“This tragedy makes us realize that climate change exists, but unfortunately it happened on a Sunday at 2 p.m., the worst hour and the worst day possible,” he said. “Because otherwise, if it had happened during the week and it wasn’t a tragedy, we wouldn’t even be talking about it.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Deadly Glacier Collapse in Italy Shows Reach of Europe's New Heat
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