Receding Glaciers on Mont Blanc Results in Closures for Italian Side

Have you ever dreamed of climbing mixed routes on the Mont Blanc massif? Come back another time, it is closed, or at least a few roads to access much of the Northwestern side of the iconic massif are. Why is this infamous alpine area closing its doors on the Italian side? It’s due to the rapid movement, and a threatening collapse of the Planpincieux glacier. Italy’s Minister of the Environment Sergio Costa claims climate change is to blame, and states that the emergency indicates “the necessity and urgency of strong and coordinated action for the climate, to prevent extreme events that risk dramatic consequences.” 

The Planpincieux glacier resides on the Mont Blanc Massif and spreads across the borders of Italy, France, and Switzerland. This glacier is actively monitored by the Safe Mountain Foundation, and officials claim that “unusually high temperatures during August and September accelerated the ice melt.” According to Time, the glacier “which spreads 512 square miles acorss the mountain, has been moving up to 20 inches a day,” and is “at risk of collapse” threatening the residents of Courmayeur, an alpine town that rests in the valley below the glacier. 

Paralleling this development in the Alps is the release of the most recent United Nations IPCC report on Wednesday, September 24th. The report entitled, “Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” (SROCC) predicts a rapid increase of glacial melting, similar to what is happening on Planpincieux. The SROCC warns that “human communities in close connection with polar areas and high mountains are particularly exposed” to melting glaciers. Th report also projects glacial mass and snow cover loss in non-polar regions like central Europe due to the impacts of climate change, stating that “by 2100, 80% of their current glacier mass may disappear.” Perhaps the most jarring statistic of all is the re-affirmation of findings from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report  which predicted with high confidence that due to a “pronounced imbalance” between current glacier mass and climate, glaciers will continue to melt even with no further climate change.

The findings of these reports and many others are alarming. These high mountain regions do not serve only as climbing and mountaineering areas for us to enjoy, but as homes and communities for people living in the high alpine - approximately one-tenth of the world’s population. Seeing the real impact that climate change is having on pristine mountain environments combined with the scientific data provided by the SROCC should serve as a wakeup call for action from global leaders.