FURKA PASS, Switzerland — On the hairpin bend of a Swiss mountain pass, a Victorian-era hotel built for tourists to admire the Rhone Glacier has been abandoned now that the ice has retreated nearly 1.2 miles uphill.
Where mighty glaciers once spilled into Swiss valleys like frozen rivers of ice, a residue of gray scree and boulders remains, spliced through with raging streams.
More than 500 Swiss glaciers have already vanished, and the government says 90% of the remaining 1,500 will go by the end of the century if nothing is done to cut emissions.
Their retreat is expected to have a major impact on water levels, possibly raising them initially as the ice melts but depleting them long term. Officials fear the changes could trigger rockfalls and other hazards and affect the economy.
The Belvedere Hotel, built in the 1880’s during a surge in Alpine tourists, was an early victim of the decline. Once the scene of wild parties, it features in a James Bond car chase in “Goldfinger.”
Landlocked Switzerland is warming at twice the global rate, and over the last year its glaciers have lost 2% of volume, said Mathias Huss, who heads Switzerland’s glacier monitoring institute, GLAMOS, which has data stretching back 150 years.
We have never seen such a fast rate of glacial decline since the measurements have started. Some hope that politics can make a difference, especially after the Green Party surged in an October 2019 election.
But the glaciers will keep shrinking, scientists say. “The Alps will still be beautiful in my opinion, but they will just be different.”
Crickey Conservation Society 2019.