Italy Orders Evacuations And Road Closures As Mont Blanc Glacier Risks Collapse

A view of the Italian side of Mont Blanc, a compact group of European mountains. Oleksandr Katrusha/Shutterstock

Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe that straddles France and Italy, is undergoing an unwelcome transformation. A vast glacier pinned to the side of one of the massif's mountains is rapidly melting due to the climate crisis and risks collapse.

To avoid human casualties, authorities in Italy have elected to close certain roads in the Val Ferret municipality and evacuate at-risk mountain huts. The glacier in question is the Planpincieux glacier, which is attached to the Grand Jorasses mountain. Increased melting means that about 250,000 cubic meters (8.8 million cubic feet) of ice is at risk of slipping from the grips of the glacier and crashing down the mountain.

"These phenomena once again show how the mountain is going through a period of major change due to climate factors and, therefore, it is particularly vulnerable," Courmayeur mayor, Stefano Miserocchi, told Italian news agency Ansa. He added that the glacier does not threaten built-up areas or tourist facilities.

Rising global temperatures are wreaking havoc on the world’s ice, with Arctic sea ice levels being tied for second lowest on record. Meanwhile, glaciers are dripping away, with a funeral being held for the Swiss Pizol glacier just a few days ago after the vast ice mass disappeared for good. Not only that but the first Icelandic glacier to melt away and lose its glacier status was commemorated with an emotive plaque earlier this year.

The hazardous Mont Blanc glacier has been melting with increasing haste and is now moving at about 60 centimeters (24 inches) per day. After noticing the glacier’s movement had accelerated, the Valle d’Aosta regional government and the Safe Mountain Foundation sounded the alarm. The council of Courmayeur has closed a highway to protect road users from any potential icy landslides.

Italian President Giuseppe Conte recently told the UN General Assembly that the glacier’s demise should “shake all of us and mobilise us.”

"This is an alarm before which we cannot be indifferent in the illusion that it doesn't regard me, you, that it is something far away in time or in space,” he said.

The glaciers that exist today have survived on Earth for hundreds, if not thousands of years. But they’re disappearing. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been pumping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere in vast quantities. These gases trap heat, warming up the planet and fueling glacial melting.

Just today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report detailing the dangers the world’s oceans face right now, from warming waters and rising acidity to the collapse of marine ecosystems. The report also warns of rising sea levels caused by melting glaciers and ice caps, particularly in the Arctic. If we don’t reduce our emissions both rapidly and drastically, our seas could rise by 1.10 meters (3.6 feet) by 2100, spelling disaster for coastal communities.  

No one knows exactly when Mont Blanc’s glacier might give way, but its decline serves as yet another stark reminder that governments must create radical policies to curb greenhouse emissions before it is too late.

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