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CLIMATE CRISIS

Why it’s a bad year for Germany’s Alpine glaciers

Germany's glaciers could melt rapidly this year due to mild temperatures and little snow, experts say.

Two hikers walk across the Schneeferner glacier on the Zugspitze in 2015.
Two hikers walk across the Schneeferner glacier on the Zugspitze in 2015. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stephan Jansen

Germany’s five glaciers – such as the Schneeferner – are located in the Zugspitze area and in the Berchtesgaden Alps. 

Due to climate change they have been melting dramatically in recent years, and have lost about about two-thirds of their volume in the past decade.

And the glaciers are facing a particularly tough year. Glaciologist Christoph Mayer, of the Academy of Sciences in Munich, said the combination of the mild weather and the low volume of snow could accelerate their melting. 

He said the low level of snow is an issue because new glacier ice can’t form, and because the snow cover that would protect glaciers from solar radiation isn’t sufficient. The snow cover reflects the sunlight and if the glaciers were to lie virtually “bare” without snow, they would melt much faster.

READ ALSO: 8 of the coolest places in Germany to visit on hot days 

Another phenomenon is causing additional problems for the glaciers this year: the Sahara dust cloud. This forms a dark layer on the snow cover and causes it to melt faster, said the glaciologist.

Till Rehm is a geophysicist who’s been a regular visitor to the Schneefernerhaus, a former hotel in the Alps that is now used as an environmental research station on the Zugspitze, since 2007.

He has been observing how the glacier that lies “on his doorstep” is becoming less and less.

“It’s sad to see how quickly this is happening,” he told Bavarian broadcaster BR24. “A glacier like this takes many thousands of years to grow and now it is melting so quickly. That is already very alarming.”

Germany’s glaciers ‘could melt in a decade’

A new report by the Bavarian Commission for Glaciology estimates that the Schneeferner Glacier on the Zugspitze will be gone in 10 to 15 years.

Attempts by operators to protect parts of the glacier with white sheeting were ultimately abandoned because the total cost was “too great”, said Rehm. It was also not clear how effective the operation would be.

READ ALSO: Germany could lose last glaciers in 10 years

Mayer said the melting is a clear indicator of how the climate is changing.

He expects that the glaciers in the Bavarian Alps such as the Schneeferner on the Zugspitze, and the Blaueis in the Berchtesgaden Alps, will disappear completely in the near future.

Vocabulary

Glacier – (der) Gletscher

To melt – schmelzen/abschmelzen

Sahara cloud/dust – (der) Saharastaub

To observe – beobachten

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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WEATHER

Snowfall due at the weekend as winter arrives in Germany

After a cold blast at the end of November, winter in Germany is set to begin with yet more snow, making it the perfect time to dig out a puffer coat and get out to Christmas market.

Snowfall due at the weekend as winter arrives in Germany

German punctuality has struck once again as winter looks set to arrive right on cue this year, with a flurry of snowfall, ice and frosty conditions in several regions of the country.

According to the German Weather Service (DWD), Saxony-Anhalt could see the mercury drop as low as -6C on Friday as snow continues to fall until the afternoon. The Harz mountains will also get a festive dusting of snow, with temperatures ranging from -1 to -3C in the coming days.   

Saturday is set to be overcast in the region with up to 5cm of snowfall, but things could dry up on Sunday as temperatures rise to a nippy 1-3C. The eastern states of Saxony and Thuringia can also expect icy conditions and snow over the weekend.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, snow is also expected at higher altitudes. In eastern Westphalia and in the Sauerland region, there could be light snowfall or sleet, DWD reported on Friday. Drivers and cyclists should exercise caution as roads are likely to become slippery due to fresh snow or freezing rain.

DWD explains that two high-pressure areas are currently causing colder winds to sweep across Germany. The first, which caused snow to fall overnight across central Germany, is gradually heading south towards France – though the second is set to bring another icy spell to the country on Friday evening and into Saturday.

Bavaria will be the first to experience the chill as the high-pressure zone travels across the Alps overnight. 

The southern state is likely to have a soggy start to the weekend, with rain falling at lower altitudes – though more hilly and mountainous areas will see some snow. But as temperatures drop during the night, residents of Bavaria could see as much as 5cm as snow on Saturday morning.

READ ALSO: Surviving winter: 8 tips for enjoying the cold like a true German

The rest of the weekend will likely be marked by uniform grey skies, frost and drizzle, though those lucky enough to live in an Alpine region could see a few precious rays of sunshine too.

The weather will also take a distinctly wintry turn in Berlin and Brandenburg over the weekend, as the cold front sweeps across northeastern Germany on Saturday and towards the Baltic Sea. 

Friday is likely to be mostly chilly and overcast, with occasional rain or sleet and maximum temperatures of 2C. 

In the night, however, southern Brandenburg will start to see some fresh snowfall, which will move up across Berlin and to the north of Brandenburg over the course of Saturday.

Snow falls outside the Reichstag in Berlin

Snow falls outside the Reichstag in Berlin on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

Berliners should be sure to wrap up if they’re heading out to enjoy the festive scenes, since the mercury is likely to hover between zero and -2C. 

Will the snow settle? 

Unfortunately the dusting of white is unlikely to stick around long in most places – so make your snow angels while you can. 

Misty or overcast skies will return on Advent Sunday, while occasional drizzle could well turn Saturday’s snow into slush. Hilly and mountainous regions will be the only ones treated to an extra helping of snow.

Meanwhile, Monday is set to get off to a soggy and wet start, with rainfall in most regions and temperatures between 1C and 5C. 

READ ALSO: Will Germany see more snow this winter?

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