Climate Action

Can covering glaciers with protective shields reduce melting?

employees of Titlis Bergbahnen sew together blankets for the coverage of parts of the glacier to protect it against melting on Mount Titlis near the Alpine resort of Engelberg, Switzerland

Resort staff have been working over the summer months to limit the impact of warming. Image: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Arnd Wiegmann
Writer, Reuters
Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi
Journalist, Reuters
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Switzerland

  • A glacier on Mount Titlis, Switzerland, has lost large amounts of ice over recent decades.
  • This summer, skiing resort staff in this area have responded by laying a fleece over the surface to shield it.
  • Employees now routinely cover approximately the size of fourteen football fields with this protective fleece.
  • In spite of these efforts, 90% of its remaining 1,500 glaciers will be gone by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut, according to the Swiss government.

In one of Switzerland's most popular Alpine destinations, resort staff have been working over the summer months to limit the impact of warming global temperatures on its glacial slopes - by blanketing the ice to block the sun.

The 3,238-metre (10,623-ft) Mount Titlis has seen large swathes of ice disappear from its glacier over recent decades. Within the next half century, all of it is expected to melt.

"We lay the fleece over the glacier like a natural protective shield," Gian Darms, who manages snow conditions and piste security for cable car operator Titlis Bergbahnen, told Reuters.

Declining snow cover as a result of climate change poses an existential threat to ski resorts throughout Europe. A glacier can provide some protection, preserving piles of snow year-round that can even be deployed on barer ski pistes elsewhere on the slopes.

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But the Swiss government has said 90% of its remaining 1,500 glaciers will be gone by the end of the century if nothing is done to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Darms said Titlis Bergbahnen has had to continually increase the size of the cover it lays on the glacier in recent years to preserve what is left.

A handful of employees work over five-to-six weeks to cover parts of the glacier with a protective polyester fleecing, which helps stave off summer melting and preserve more of the snow that fell in the previous winter.

an employee of Titlis Bergbahnen sews together blankets for the coverage of parts of the glacier to protect it against melting on Mount Titlis near the Alpine resort of Engelberg, Switzerland
This man is sewing together blankets to cover the glacier. Image: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

They now cover some 100,000 square metres, or roughly the size of fourteen football fields, with the reflective fleece, which helps radiate the sun's energy back into the atmosphere, before spending weeks peeling it back off again.

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Collected snow is then used to help fill glacial cracks that otherwise might open on the resort's ski pistes, while also helping to keep in place the lift supports that are fixed into the ice.

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