On Sunday a week ago, we went on a day-long outing to see the glacier of Trift and walk across the suspension bridge hanging over the gorge at the end of the lake formed by the glacier’s retreat whose pace has quickened dramatically since 2003.

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Although the bluish green waters of this small lake (called proglacial lake by glaciologists) shimmering under the bright sun of this beautiful day towards the end of summer certainly made for a beautiful sight, I could not help but feel sorry that so much ice had melted away within such an incredibly short time span of less than 10 years!

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As I had done some background reading, I knew that some 50 years ago ice covered an even greater expanse than today’s proglacial lake. I had read that people would be able to cross the glacier on foot to reach an alpine shelter located on a mountain on the other side of the glacier. However, I had not realised that this meant that only half a century ago the depth of the ice was such that the glacier would reach almost as high a point as the start of today’s suspension bridge (see the red dot on the right hand-side of the picture on the left). The photograph on the right shows more or less the same point in 2003, when the melting of the glacier had already been sufficiently extensive to prompt people to set up a suspension bridge. Unfortunately, as you can see by comparing the very top picture (which I took in September 2012) with the photograph shot by Mr Funk (the current head of the glaciology section at ETH Zurich) in 2003, the glacier has been melting at an alarming rate ever since that year mainly because summers have become much warmer in the mountains.

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This brought back to my mind the view of the mighty glacier of Aletsch (technically, the tongue of the glacier — which is where I have inserted URL for this blog) we got to admire last year from a viewpoint not far away from the gorges of the Massa (more pictures available in the entry my wife wrote on this trip).

As illustrated in the montage above (which the nature conservation organisation ProNatura has had the good idea to display at one end of the suspension bridge over the Massa), the melting of the tongue of Aletsch, the king of Swiss glaciers, has been almost as impressive …

As I found out the next evening when I went to the reading room of the Geneva Library (previously known as Bibliothèque Publique et Universitaire) to peruse a collection of 19th century photographs of (mostly) Swiss glaciers set against shots taken from the same viewpoints 4 to 5 years ago published in a superb book* entitled Glaciers Passé-présent du Rhône au Mont-Blanc (Editions Slatkine, Geneva, 2010), these huge rivers of ice high up in the Alps are dying a slow but inexorable death. I must say that after closing the book, I felt quite depressed.

However, this has strengthened my resolve to see as many as I can before they melt away … so expect future posts on this topic.

* Excerpts available in this PDF:     D_webProdwdslatSlatkine_S3SLATKINE_S3_WEBPDF9782832103630.PDF

Accounts of excursions to glaciers on this blog (in French and in English)

Accounts of excursions to glaciers (wife’s blog)

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