BASEL, Switzerland — The “absolutely huge” impacts of climate change in the Alps are now visible from space, new research reveals.
According to Swiss scientists, global warming is having a “particularly pronounced” effect on the Alpine region. Like the Arctic, the snowy mountain range turns green.
Researchers from the University of Lausanne and the University of Basel used satellite data to show that vegetation has increased above the treeline in nearly 80 percent of the mountains known for their ski vacations. Snow cover is also decreasing, but only slightly so far.
The research team says: melting glaciers become a symbol of global warming in the area. While the reduction in snow cover is now visible from space, it’s not even the biggest change.
Working with colleagues in Finland and the Netherlands, the Swiss researchers examined the change in snow cover and local vegetation using high-resolution satellite data from 1984 to 2021. Plant biomass above the treeline increased during that time in more than 77 percent of the region. please . The researchers say that the phenomenon – which they call “greening” – is already a common phenomenon in the Arctic.
“The scale of the change has proven to be absolutely huge in the Alps,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Sabine Rumpf of the University of Basel in a statement. press release†
Climate change changes the local composition of plants
In the Alps, the team explains that the area is getting greener as plants colonize new soils and generally become denser and taller. Previous studies have mainly focused on the impact of global warming on the region’s biodiversity and changes in local plant species† However, no one had done such extensive research into the changes in vegetation productivity in the Alps.
The new study, published in the journal Scienceshows that the increase in vegetation in the mountains is largely due to changes in rainfall levels and rising temperatures.
“Alpine plants are adapted to harsh conditions, but they are not very competitive,” says Rumpf.
As the environment changes, researchers say these specialized species lose their advantage and other plants catch up.
“The unique biodiversity of the Alps is therefore under considerable pressure,” adds Rumpf.
In contrast to the vegetation, Prof. Rumpf notes that the degree of snow cover above the treeline has changed only slightly since 1984. During their study, the researchers excluded areas below 1,700 meters (5,600 feet), glaciers, and forests. In the remaining regions, they found that snow cover decreased significantly in nearly 10 percent of the area.
“Previous analyzes of satellite data had not identified such a trend,” said Professor Antoine Guisan of the University of Lausanne. “This may be because the resolution of the satellite images was insufficient or because the periods considered were too short.”
“For years, local measurements on the ground have shown a decrease in snow depth at low elevations,” adds Professor Grégoire Mariéthoz. “Due to this decrease, some areas have already become largely snow-free.”
Less snow brings other natural hazards
The research team warns that as global warming continues, the Alps will continue to shift from snow-capped to green and bushycreating a vicious circle.
“Greener mountains reflect less sunlight and therefore lead to further warming — and in turn, further shrinkage of reflective snow cover,” Rumpf says.
Global warming is also causing further melting of glaciers and thawing of permafrost could cause more landslides, crushed stone and mudslides. The team points to the important role of snow and ice from the Alps, providing locals and tourists with drinking water and recreation.
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.
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