Taking a skiing holiday in the Alps is the stuff of snowy, adventurous dreams. But according to new research, it may not be possible for even the luckiest among us for much longer.
A study published in The Cryosphere, a journal of the European Geosciences Union, has found that the Alps could lose up to 70 percent of their snow cover by 2100. In recent years, the mountain range has seen meager snowpack and massive declines in average snowfall. The past three years have been marked on record as “dry” — with seven out of the eight most popular resorts in France reporting snowfall of a mere 20 inches or less in the month of December 2015. The 2016 season scored the title for the driest in the Alps since snowfall records began more than 150 years ago.
According to the science news outlet Phys.org, the lead authors of the study were able to simulate the effects of increasing greenhouse gas emissions bringing higher temperatures to the Alps. The simulation, called ALPINE3D, can make projections of how the snow will change in the future, as well as how sensitive this change will be to different global-warming scenarios. “The majority of the climate models used project slightly increasing winter precipitation toward the end of the century. However, since temperatures are clearly increasing simultaneously, we may experience increasing rainfall and not snow fall,” lead author Christoph Marty, a research scientist at SLF, said in the Phys.org report. “We hope our results convincingly show that even increasing winter precipitation cannot compensate for the effect of the strongly increasing temperatures.”
Climate change is going to take a toll on the Alps — and the communities nestled between the prominent peaks of the range. According to the research, the snowpack will be affected “for all elevations, time periods, and emission scenarios,” they write in the study. “The most affected elevation zone for climate change is located below 1,200 meters [3,937 feet], where the simulations show almost no continuous snow cover toward the end of the century,” the study reads. Most of the ski resorts are located at or below this altitude. This means that not only will the environment be dry, but the economy as well.
The Alpine season (when snow is deep enough for winter sports) is going to be dramatically shortened — and, in turn, shorten the winter tourism season.
And while the chances of saving the snow are bleak, the research found that our carbon emissions could keep the situation at “bad” instead of “worse.” Snow and Avalanche Researcher Christoph Marty said in a press release: “The Alpine snow cover will recede anyway, but our future emissions control by how much.” According to the findings, if humans manage to keep global warming increases at bay and maintain the average temperature of the region below 35.6 degrees, the snow-cover reduction would be limited to 30 percent by 2100.