Record-breaking temperatures were recorded at Mont Blanc this week. Chamonix (1050m) reached a sweltering 36°, breaking the former record of 34° from the year 1947. And at the Aiguille du Midi summet, which is normally frozen this time of year, temperatures shot up to 14°, another record. Even the summit of Mont Blanc reached 7° for a few hours before dropping back down to 2°. Over in the Pyrenees, at the Pic du Midi (2876m), the temperature at the summit reached a record-breaking 12°, and glaciologists estimate that the current glacier melt rate is around 10cm per day.
Since the snow line lies above the summit of Mont Blanc, all the glaciers are experiencing positive temperatures, leading to melting glaciers. This has led some French journalists to quip that "Mont Blanc" ("Mount White") might soon be undeserving of its name. Once the permafrost starts melting, the entire mountain face becomes unstable, leading to an increased risk of landslides. Guides have already had to adapt their itineraries and mountain refuges have been relocated to compensate for the unstable terrain due to the increasing temperatures of the last few decades.
It's not the first time this region has experienced such hot temperatures - they occurred in 1983, August of 2003 and July of 2015. But the increase in hot years appears to be linked to climate change, and this is the first year the drastic heat wave has happened so early in the season. A scientific study released by Nature magazine warned that climate change may cause the summit of Mont Blanc to see a 45-50% decrease in frost by the end of this century. Over in Écrins, the Glacier Blanc has shrunk by 450m and lost 5m in thickness between 2014 and 2018.
France has been in the throes of a heat wave and experts predict this summer's temperatures could surpass those experienced in 2003, when 15 000 people died from the August heat. The hotter-than-usual temperatures are due to a blast of hot air from the Sahara and North Africa. Météo France has released orange weather warnings and the country is on high alert to mitigate the effects of this early heat wave. Check out this map by Météo France for an overview of heat records that were set in June and July 2019.
High-altitude lakes are melting faster than usual for this time of year (Photo: © Eric Courcier, accompagnateur en montagne - photographe)
Melting ski areas is old news, and most skiers and snowboarders will recognise the panic associated with choosing a ski resort that will have guaranteed snow cover, even in the middle of winter. This past ski season saw Austria inundated with way too much snow, while France, Italy and Switzerland suffered brown slopes for most of the winter. Back in November, a group of students mounted a giant postcard on the melting Aletsch Glacier, pleading governments to take action against climate change. In response to rising temperatures, Tignes is planning to build an indoor ski slope at 2000m above sea level, and ski resorts in the US are suing petrol companies over their negative effects on their ski seasons. In more encouraging news, some ski resorts are having success with snow farming and green energy. While fighting climate change will likely require intervention by governments and corporations, we can do our part by making environmentally sound decisions when planning our ski holidays. Let's keep the snow around so our children can enjoy skiing too!
Header image from Chamonix Mont Blanc webcam
Born and raised in the ski paradise of Vancouver, Canada, I learned to ski before I can remember, balancing precariously on my parents’ skis as they sailed down the hill. I started snowboarding in my teens and am now delighted to be exploring everything Europe’s ski scene has to offer!
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