Swiss Town Covers its Glacier with White Blanket Every Summer to Prevent Melting Caused by Climate Change

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glacier, rhone glacier, switzerland, covered blanket
Every summer the locals cover the Rhône Glacier in white blankets to prevent melting. Credit: Urs Flueeler/Keystone via AP

For the last eight years, a group of locals makes their way to the Rhône Glacier, the oldest glacier in the Alps, every summer to cover over the ice in massive white blankets that reflect the sun, in order to prevent melting caused by climate change. In the last 10-years, about 131 feet of the roughly 5-mile-long glacier has disappeared, reports the Smithsonian.

The blankets might seem like a quick fix or gimmick, but it’s possible that they could reduce seasonal melting by up to 70 percent. And it’s worked well enough that the same strategy is being put to use for glaciers in Italy and Germany, too.

glacier, rhone glacier, switzerland, covered blanket
Rhône Glacier, Switzerland.

Due to the success of this fairly rudimentary method, scientists are now proposing higher-tech solutions to further slow the impact of global warming on glacial ice around the world.

One such idea is to build mounds of sand and stone underwater at the mouth of at-risk glaciers near the sea, such as Thwaites Glacier in the Antarctic. The walls, which would stretch for miles on the seafloor, would slow or reverse their collapse. If these mounds work, glaciers that would otherwise collapse in 100 years could potentially last for another millennium. The proposal would not only protect the glacier but also hold off sea-level rise by preventing the meltwater from entering the ocean.

glacier, rhone glacier, switzerland, covered blanket
Rhône Glacier, the oldest glacier in the alps. Credit:

Last year, another group of scientists came up with a plan to cover a portion of glaciers in the Swiss Alps with artificial snow. The idea was a higher-tech version of the huge blankets; both the blankets and the snow reflect the sun rather than absorbing it. Unlike the use of blankets to protect ice, these ideas are still hypothetical. So whether these fixes have any real potential on a large, real-life scale remains to be seen.

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, human activity within the past few centuries has raised the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 40 percent, and it’s these heat-trapping gases that are responsible for climate warming, shrinking mountain snow, and glacier retreat.

“Even if you have a way of restoring ice in the Arctic, it does not solve the CO2 problem, it doesn’t solve acidification of the oceans, it doesn’t fully decrease temperatures,” Steven Desch, a physicist at Arizona State University, told Harvey. “It helps, but it doesn’t solve anything.”

At least in the Alps, residents think they have found a solution, even if it’s a temporary one.

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