Environment Forum

Holy water!

Aletsch glacier, the largest glacier in the Swiss Alps is seen on August 18, 2007. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Are the residents of Fiesch and Fischertal in Switzerland particularly pious, desperate or both? I wonder after learning that villagers there want Pope Benedict’s blessing to stop the melting of Europe’s longest glacier. That, after hundreds of years of praying for it to stop growing. Researchers predict winter temperatures in the Swiss Alps will rise by 1.8 degrees Celsius in winter and 2.7 degrees Celsius in the summer by 2050.

You can track the fate of the Aletsch glacier here, but don’t expect to see a repeat of Spencer Tunick’s 2007 naked photoshoot.

Undoubtedly, Switzerland’s tourism industry has suffered this summer, with 148,000 fewer foreign visitors bunking at chalets and the like in June compared to the same month last year. Of course it’s not clear if the decline was due to melting glaciers or the credit crisis.

Back in the United States, melting glaciers aren’t a big source of concern.

A task force from the American Psychological Association, citing a Pew Research Center poll that found that climate change ranked last in a list of 20 compelling issues, concluded that psychological barriers like uncertainty, mistrust and denial were to blame. It added that habits can change, especially if money is involved.

Cracking views of Antarctic icebergs

As a view out of your home it’s hard to match — a constantly changing vista of icebergs just outside the British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera research station.

Every day the winds and tides on the Antarctic Peninsula shift them around — some break up  abruptly with a loud splash while many simply slowly grind into ice cubes against the shore and disappear. I’ve tried to take a picture every day from the main balcony here (there’s a metal mast on the right hand side of each photo).

Walking along the shore here you can hear a bubbling as air in the ice melts out into the water. The old ice is the clearest — good for putting in cold drinks. Some form gravity-defying shapes such as arches or big holes — one in the bay a few days ago looked like a giant catamaran.

Yellow submarine to explore Antarctic glaciers

A yellow robot submarine will dive under an ice shelf in Antarctica to seek clues to world ocean level rises in one of the most inaccessible places on earth, reports our environment correspondent Alister Doyle. You can see his story here.

The 7-meter (22 ft) submarine, to be launched from a U.S. research vessel, will probe the underside of the ice at the end of the Pine Island glacier, which is moving faster than any other in Antarctica and already brings more water to the oceans than Europe’s Rhine River.

Scientists have long observed vast icebergs breaking off Antarctica’s ice shelves – extensions of glaciers floating on the sea – but have been unable to get beneath them to see how deep currents may be driving the melt from below.

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