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Global Warming Made Visible

Morteratsch Glacier Retreat

Morteratsch Glacier in southeastern Switzerland, retreating
The Morteratsch Glacier in southeastern Switzerland is retreating due to Global Warming

Reasons for and Consequences of Global Warming

Morteratsch Glacier Retreat

(since 1882)

Year Retreat Per Year
  meters   feet   meters   feet  
 1882 - 1900  321 1054 17 58
1900 - 1920 204 669 10 33
1920 - 1940 316 1036 16 52
1940 - 1950 221 725 22 73
1950 - 1960 298 978 30 98
1960 - 1970 279 915 28 92
1970 - 1980 301 987 30 99
1980 - 1990 68 223 7 22
1990 - 2000 183 600 18 60
2000 - 2010 276 906 28 91
total 1825 5988 14 47

From these figures it is absolutely evident that the local climate in the Bernina region has been continously warming since the end of the 19th century. Similar observations have been made troughout the Swiss Alps.

When scientists began publishing first studies about global warming lots of people did not want to believe them and many even started to search for arguments that temperatures are still just within «normal» annual deviations from the average. Meanwhile their is enough evidence that global warming is a reality and glacier retreat is a visible proof for this reality that cannot be overseen any longer.

The debate has consequently switched from the question «is global warming real?» to the question «is global warming man-made?» The answer is - finally - crystal clear, but the arguments are not as simple as politicians and mass media might like them to be.

Natural Temperature Cycles

Ice Ages

There ist no doubt that there are natural temperature cycles. First, a very long-term cycle with large effects on temperatures on the planet takes some 120,000 years from one minimum to the next and corresponds to what we call «Ice Age» periods. It has been shown that this cycle is related to the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. During at least four periods within the last 500,000 years temperatures were so low that glaciers covered large areas, for example Switzerland was completely covered by glaciers.

In fact, the «natural» cycle of Ice Ages is near the warm maximum currently. But, while the last three maximums showed carbon dioxide concentrations of 280 to 300 ppmv we face now a much higher CO2-concentration of more than 375 ppmv. In other words, a man-made increase in greenhouse gases adds to the natural cycle considerably.

Solar Activity and Sun Spots

Another known cycle is much shorter - only about 11 years from one maximum to the next and can be related to the activity of the sun. The energy emitted by the sun roughly corresponds to a phenomenon called «sun spots». While the cycle time is quite stable, maximum numbers of sun spots observed vary considerably from some 70 sun spots to some 200 sun spots, while the minima are always below 10 sun spots. Though short term changes in solar activity are a reality, there is no direct relation between sun spot cycles and global temperatures. The differences in solar energy emitted are simply too small compared to other short term effects on temperatures. Besides, the maximum of sun spots observed is at the end of the 1950's, followed by smaller peaks since. So the changes in solar activity as can be observed by the number of sun spots are not a relevant reason for global warming.

Man-Made Greenhouse Gas Concentration

Global temperatures have been rising since the 19th century, however, and their average corresponds to the increase of concentration of greenhouse gases much better than to the natural ice-age cycles and to the height of sunspot cycle maximums.

Consequences of Global Warming

Global Warming will lead to an almost complete loss of glaciers in many parts of the world, which will affect supply of drinking water and irrigation in periods without rain. This effect will be even more important because there will be more and longer periods without rain than today.

While there is also a risk of heavier thunderstorms, these will not compensate for the dryer periods, as most of the rain from heavy rainfall cannot be absorbed by the soil and will flow to the seas within a few weeks.

Signposts marking the glacier retreat since 1878

From Morteratsch railway station, a stop on the famous Bernina Railway Line leading from St. Moritz to Tirano (Italy), a path leads to the tongue of Morteratsch glacier. While the glacier used to you need now walk 2 km (1 1/4 miles) from the station to the glacier. A number of rocks and signposts marking the position of the glacier from 1878 to 20010 make the glacier retreat visible.

Morteratsch train station
Morteratsch train station
Morteratsch Glacier retreat, rock marking year 1878
glacier tongue position in 1878
Morteratsch Glacier retreat, signpost marking year 1900
glacier tongue position in 1900
Morteratsch Glacier retreat, signpost marking year 1920
glacier tongue position in 1920
Morteratsch Glacier retreat, signpost marking year 1940
glacier tongue position in 1940
Morteratsch Glacier retreat, signpost marking year 1950
glacier tongue position in 1950
Morteratsch Glacier retreat, signpost marking year 1960
glacier tongue position in 1960
Morteratsch Glacier retreat, signpost marking year 1970
glacier tongue position in 1970
Morteratsch Glacier retreat, signpost marking year 1980
glacier tongue position in 1980
Morteratsch Glacier retreat, signpost marking year 1990
glacier tongue position in 1990
Morteratsch Glacier retreat, signpost marking year 2000
glacier tongue position in 2000
Morteratsch Glacier retreat, rock marking year 2010
glacier tongue position in 2010

Morteratsch Glacier Photos

Morteratsch Glacier tongue
Morteratsch Glacier in southeastern Switzerland
Morteratsch Glacier in southeastern Switzerland
Morteratsch Glacier in southeastern Switzerland
Morteratsch Glacier hiking

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