Swaddling a Glacier
27 May 2005
Ski resorts near glaciers are sweating over global warming, as shrinkage of these rivers of ice threatens the operators’ pocketbooks.
The latest stopgap measure is worthy of the artist Christo: In the Swiss Alps, an operator of a cable car that ferries skiers up to the Gurschen glacier has covered 3000 square meters of the glacier with a huge sheet of fleece-like material.
The glacier’s melting top end has sunk about 20 meters over the last 15 years, and so each year the resort has had to build a ramp of snow to it from the cable-car stop. The $25,000 blanket would reflect sunlight to keep the ramp from melting each summer and preserve the patch of glacier underneath.
Glaciologist Wilfried Haeberli of the University of Zurich says that although glaciers have been melting for the past century, they usually erode at the bottom. But now, as temperatures rise and snow lines climb, tops of glaciers are melting too. Losing ski runs is not the only problem: With perma-frost melting under cable-car stations, resort owners are injecting concrete into the ground to shore up the foundations.