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Snowmaking Can Slow But Not Stop Glacier Melt

One idea being tested on several glaciers around the world in recent years has been to use snowmaking to create a layer of artificial snow in an effort to stop melting and even rebuild glaciers.

However results of a study into using snowmaking on the Morteratsch glacier which has been running for two years in south-eastern Switzerland have found that while the process can slow melting, it does not stop it, nor does it stabilise the thawing glacier as a whole.

In recent years glacial ice has more and more often been exposed to the direct heat of the summer sun as the ‘protective layer’ of winter snow is quickly melted off the ice during the spring. The darker ice soaks up the heat faster than the reflective snow, in a vicious cycle of ever faster thawing. The idea of the study was to create snow to artificially protect the glacial ice and keep reflecting back the sun’s rays.

The study found that the glacier, which is expected to lose between half and threequarters of its mass by the 2060s, could see the rate of thaw slow if a $164m+ (US) snowmaking system was installed, but it would only slow the thaw a little.

“If we really want to save the glaciers, we had better start with climate protection,” said report author Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

The project followed a 2017 report: Slowing down the retreat of the Morteratsch glacier, Switzerland, by artificially produced summer snow: a feasibility study

Whistler in Canada is among the ski areas experimenting with glacier snowmaking. Last summer the Hintertux glacier in Austria’s Tirol was the only one that managed to maintain its year round ski operation as it makes snow on its glacier ice.

  1. Maurizio

    22nd March 2023 1:58 pm

    Sometimes it is better to let nature do its course. I have seen the attempts to prevent glacier melting by putting white plastic covers on glaciers, and it doesn’t look any natural. The landscape looks better with a glacier naturally retreating than with a glacier retreating less but with these plastic covers on top of it.

    Artificial snowmaking on glaciers is also contributing to the very problem that it is supposed to solve, and in addition to this the landscape looks uglier due to the infrastructure that is installed to produce artificial snow, i.e. artificial lakes and snow cannons.

    As a skier, the less infrastructure I see, the better it is. And if the glacier is not in conditions for skiing I am happy to do something else. If the landscape is preserved it is still enjoyable to be in the mountains and do hiking. If the landscape is fully of artificial infrastructure, what is the point of going to the mountains?

  2. Brian Hall

    22nd March 2023 3:22 pm

    SIMPLE SOLUTION -snow fencing
    Snow making requires huge amounts of water and energy.
    Snow fencing is a low tech simple solution. I’ve been building snow fencing since the mid-70’s. It’s inexpensive and effective. We’ve created skiing on high windswept alpine regions that were previously bare. The snow that’s captured behind (lee side of wind barriers) snow fence is packed hard and dense. Even at lower elevations this snow melts out slowly and feeds our rivers, lakes and aquifers for a longer period of time.

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