Land O’ Lakes: Melting Glaciers Transform Alpine Landscape

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Axel Bojanowski, April 26, 2013 (16 Photo in the Gallery).
Climate change is dramatically altering the Swiss Alps, where hundreds of bodies of water are being created by melting glaciers. Though the lakes can attract tourists and even generate electricity, local residents also fear catastrophic tidal waves … //

… Deeper than Lake Ontario:   

Haeberli and his colleagues estimate there will be 500 to 600 major lakes in the Swiss high mountain region “in the foreseeable future.” With progressive global warming, three new bodies of water per year will emerge, according to their calculations.

The forecast is based on a computer model designed to show the ground underneath the glaciers. The way an ice mass moves and how it creases reveal the nature of the subsoil on which it is dwindling away.

Haeberli says his team tested the model on the changes in the landscape in the past decade. The digital animation shows which glaciers stand over hollows that will be exposed by the receding ice tongue in the coming years and could be filled with melt water. The resulting bodies of water will have an average depth of up to 100 meters (about 328 feet), estimates Haeberli — that’s deeper than Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan and the Chiemsee in Bavaria.

The first new additions have already arrived: While tourists are excited about the Rhone Glacier Lake in Valais, Switzerland, the young body of water is causing problems around the Grindelwald Glacier. Rock from the Eiger mountain that was once covered in ice began to fall away, and the resulting landslides have been causing melt water to build up since 2005. Thawing caused the lake to swell so much that it overflowed in late May 2008.

Anti-Flood Tunnel: … //

… Some Consolation:

Some of these bodies of water, however, have the potential to lure tourists with attractive possibilities. The new lakes forming from a handful of glaciers in Switzerland — Aletsch, Gorner, Otemma, Corbassière, Gauli and Plaine Morte — have the capacity to be among the 20 largest reservoirs in the world, says Haeberli.

“The new lakes offer a chance to maintain current electricity production through hydropower,” say Haeberli and his colleagues. Finally, in lower-lying areas, existing reservoirs are expected to disappear in a few decades due to dwindling melt-water rivers. Replacement is required.
The scientist is already anticipating a power plant that would feed off the new lakes forming from the Corbassière, Gauli and Trift glaciers. The plant could potentially produce 500 megawatts of electricity each year, which would be of great value to the Swiss. Haeberli estimates that about 40 new lakes could be interesting for energy production.

Perhaps, hopes the researcher, this will serve as consolation for the loss of the region’s icy landscape.
(full text).


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