Dozens of people will climb up a steep Swiss mountain on Sunday to mark the disappearance of an Alpine glacier, a day world leaders gather in New York to discuss the action needed to curb global warming.
The Pizol — located in the Glarus Alps of northeastern Switzerland — “has lost so much substance that from a scientific perspective it is no longer a glacier,” Alessandra Degiacomi, of the Swiss Association for Climate Protection, told AFP.
The organisation, which helped coordinate the glacier’s “funeral” march, said that around 100 people were due to take part in the event.
Dressed in black, they will make the solemn two-hour march up the side of Pizol mountain to the foot of the steep and rapidly melting ice formation, situated at an altitude of around 2,700 metres near the Liechtenstein and Austrian borders.
Once on top, a chaplain and several scientists will make speeches in remembrance of the glacier, accompanied by alphorns — the pipe-shaped wooden instrument used by mountain dwellers in the Swiss Alps.
Then, there will be a wreath-laying ceremony for the Pizol glacier — one of the most studied glaciers in the Alps.
The move comes after Iceland made global headlines last month with a large ceremony and the laying of a bronze plaque to commemorate Okjokull, the island’s first glacier lost to climate change.
Pizol not the first glacier to disappear in Switzerland
However, Pizol is not the first glacier to disappear from the Swiss Alps.
“Since 1850, we estimate that more than 500 Swiss glaciers have completely disappeared, including 50 that were named,” Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at the ETH technical university in Zurich, told AFP.
Pizol may not be the first glacier to vanish in Switzerland, but “you could say it is the first to disappear that has been very thoroughly studied,” said Huss, who will participate in Sunday’s ceremony.
The logs kept since scientists began tracking the glacier in 1893 paint a bleak picture of recent rapid changes to the climate.
Pizol has lost 80 to 90% of its volume just since 2006, leaving behind a mere 26,000 square metres of ice, or “less than four football fields,” Huss said.
Pizol, which sits at a relatively low altitude, was never very big.
According to Glacier Monitoring Switzerland, or GLAMOS, it, like nearly 80% of Swiss glaciers, has been considered a so-called “glacieret”.
More than 90% of Alpine glaciers could disappear by end of century
Huss and other scientists have warned that more than 90% could disappear by the end of this century if CO2 emissions are not decreased.
Regardless of what actions humans take now, the Alps will lose at least half of their ice mass by 2100, according to their study, published in April.
And in a subsequent study published earlier this month, the researchers indicated that the Alps’ largest glacier, the Aletsch, could completely disappear over the next eight decades.
Sunday’s “funeral” for Pizol provides an occasion to point out that climate change is not only melting glaciers but is endangering “our means of subsistence”, according to the organising groups, including Greenpeace.
It is threatening “human civilisation as we know it in Switzerland and around the world,” they warn on the event webpage.
With this in mind, the Swiss Association for Climate Protection recently presented the 100,000 signatures needed to launch a popular initiative, to be put to a referendum, demanding that Switzerland reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.
The date for the vote has yet to be set, but the Swiss government in August said it supported the objective.