Home Sciences The Aneto glacier could disappear in less than 20 years

The Aneto glacier could disappear in less than 20 years


The climate change causes an annual retreat of one and a half meters of the Aneto Glacier and this year this figure could be exceeded due to the heat waves of this summer. This is determined by studies of Pyrenean Institute of Ecology (IPE-CSIC), which also point to the ice It has an area of ​​about 50 hectares and could disappear in less than 20 years. In this sense, another study revealed in 2021 that the glaciers of the Pyrenees have lost a fifth of their surface in a decade.

ACN raised a drone at an altitude of 3,000 meters and verified the deteriorated state of the ice, which this year has been rapidly reduced in advance and has forced the launch of danger alerts due to landslides. Located in the massif of the maladetain Benasque (Ribagorça), Aneto is the highest peak in the Pyrenees with 3,404 meters and every summer hundreds of hikers want to crown it.

‘Fossil ice’ exposed

No one remembers a July with the Aneto glacier in such terrible conditions as it is now. The virtual disappearance of winter snow reveals what experts call “fossil ice“. As explained Ixeia Vidallera member of the IPE, is that blackish part that can be seen above 3,000 meters and has a high concentration of organic matter.

From a drone view, ACN has been able to verify the characteristics of this fossilized gelwhich is punished by the heat with the opening of big cracks and also him rockslide Large size. The remaining snow looks brown, a consequence of the saharan dust that last winter accompanied the rainfall episodes. Vidaller points out that this powder makes the snow melt faster. For this reason, the mass of ice is exposed before time and the ice loses more thickness.

Vidaller also highlights that the meltwater rivers of the glacier do not stop at night, because the temperature does not drop enough, and this process causes it to be in “continuous retreat”. The IPE has been monitoring the Aneto glacier since 2020, also with a drone. They do this in late summer or early fall, so they can calculate the annual reduction before the new snow season. They calculate that in 10 years the mass of ice has reduced the surface by 20%, about 20 hectares and about 8.5 meters thick.

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Forecasting is difficult, but scientists believe that the glacier will disappear in less than 20 years. The repeated waves of heat cause it to lose from one meter to one and a half meters in length annually. This year it is already expected that this figure will be exceeded and this is also due to the fact that the ice that has emerged is no longer white but rather turns black and this makes it melt rather.

The risks of the current state of the glacier

The current state of the glacier has activated the alerts of the emergency bodies of Aragon regarding the hundreds of hikers who want to reach the top every summer. The classic route starting from the refuge of the Renclusa going through the gate to access the glacier and then cross it until reaching the top is almost impracticable. Thats why he Special Mountain Intervention Rescue Group (GREIM) of the Civil Guard based in Benasque issued a notice recommending alternative routes.

The most recommended is the one that passes through the Plain of Aigualluts and climb towards the top by the Salterillo pond and dodge almost all the ice below until you reach the foot of the top. There it is inevitable to go over a stretch of ice and therefore the use of crampons, ice ax and helmet is recommended.

Avoid more bailouts

Arthur Suarezchief sergeant of the Benasque GREIM, explains that they made the decision to give notice to avoid a situation like that of last summer, when the poor state of the ice accelerated in August and they had to do more bailouts. More than 20 were carried out, with 28 people rescued.

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Suárez does not believe that the rescues are due to the “recklessness” of the hikers and defends “making people aware” that the circumstances are very dangerous and they must be prepared. A fall of 60 or 80 meters through the ice can be fatal, since it is so hard that limbs are burned.

The Civil Guard carries out most of the rescues by helicopter, which can approach the glacier and hold on “partially” to avoid the risk of rockfalls as much as possible. This year it has only been necessary to rescue three people, one since the danger alert was made.

New ponds and ecosystems when the glacier disappears

The disappearance of a glacier gives rise to the birth of a new ecosystem in the environment it had occupied. This is what will happen in Aneto, where according to Ixeia Vidaller, when it completely disappears: new ponds with fauna and Flora. It is a way of looking for a “positive part” in all this, highlights the scientist, who also points out that a few years ago a new pond began to form under the Coll Maleït and last year it already occupied half a hectare.

The generation that will see the glaciers of the Pyrenees disappear

On the other hand, the geologist from the University of Lleida (UdL) Carles Balasch He has no doubt that the current generation will see the glaciers of the Pyrenees disappear. The ones in this mountain range are very interesting for scientists from the point of view of biodiversity because they are at a very low latitude and are the only ones that exist on the peninsula.

At its peak, according to Balasch, in the Pyrenees there were 250 kilometers of glaciers above 2,000 meters. Currently, there are only remains at the top of circuses such as Aneto. In this sense, the data indicates that in the mid-nineteenth century there were 2,800 hectares of glaciers in the Pyrenees and now there are only about 250 hectares.

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