Study: the Alps could lose half of their “snow days” by the end of the century

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Skiers in the Alps could enjoy only half the number of snow days by the end of the century due to higher temperatures if greenhouse gas emissions remain at high levels, according to a published study today in the magazine Hydrology and Earth Sciences.

Such a reduction in the number of “snow days” would have a significant impact on water availability, nature and the winter sports industry, the researchers warned. But they also pointed out that with climate action to reduce emissions, around 83% of current snow days could be saved by the end of the century.

The paper’s projections indicate that without rapid reductions in emissions, snow loss would be particularly severe in the southern Alps in Italy, Slovenia and parts of France, with the southwestern Alps likely to be particularly affected. .

The study’s lead author, Dr Michael Matiu, of Eurac Research in Italy, said: “I expected reductions in snow cover, but the changes found by this paper in a warming scenario strong – from 4C to 5C – are very high On the other hand On the other hand, there is a large scope for potential savings, if warming is limited under the Paris Agreement – which raises hope.”

Warming above 4C is now considered unlikely this century, given the growing competitiveness of clean technologies and commitments by governments to reduce emissions in line with Paris Agreement targets. However, environmental activists have warned that such potentially catastrophic levels of warming cannot be ruled out given that global emissions continue to rise, and that even at lower levels of warming, significant climate impacts will still be triggered.

While winter sports enthusiasts would be hit hard by the projected decline in snow days, the loss of snow cover would have far more serious implications for areas downstream that rely on annual snowmelt in spring and winter. summer for water.

“Snow loss will lead to a temporal change in water availability, with higher water flows in winter and lower in summer,” Matiu said. “This is particularly difficult in areas that are already struggling for water use. In any case, the Alps – or countries and regions sharing the Alps – will have to find a way to manage water availability. water… to have enough water for agriculture, energy production, domestic use, tourism, at the right time and in the right place.”

The study also revealed that the number of lost snow days varies with altitude. Mountains at 2,500 meters, for example, would lose 76 days – almost three months of snowfall per year – if emissions remained high. If emissions are reduced in line with the Paris Agreement and global warming is limited to 1.5-2C, only 26 days – less than a month – would be lost. At 500 meters, the days of snow can be almost squared. About 14 days would be lost if emissions were high, leaving only five snow days per year, but reducing emissions could save ten snow days.

Dr Martina Barandun, a glaciologist at EURAC Italy who was not involved in this study, said: “Changing snow cover patterns will affect when and how much water is released and will affect irrigation practices. … Coming from an agricultural background, I know the immense stress and pressure this puts on small-scale farmers in mountain regions.”

While skiing could potentially continue in some places thanks to snow cannons, Matiu said ski resorts should defend their high energy and water consumption “especially in times of water scarcity”.

Warming temperatures in the mountains would also threaten biodiversity in the Alps, including alpine flowers, ibexes and marmots, the scientists said.

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