Rising temperatures are melting the ice that holds the mountains together, with melting glaciers causing flooding.


The melting permafrost is leading to more frequent rockfalls and landslides on mountains across the Alps according to a new report.

Mountains are not simply made of solid rock.

They are fractured and cracked and between the layers there is ice – it is called permafrost.

It acts like a glue holding the giant slabs of rock together.

However the ice is melting in the rising temperatures, thus making the rocks unstable.

“It’s going quickly. Ten years ago, I’d have never thought that it would accelerate like this,” said Ludovic Ravanel, an academic at the University of Savoie Mont Blanc who has been studying major rockfalls in the area.

“And if you look at the predictions from my climatologist colleagues, for the next 10 to 20 years, it’s only going to get worse,” he said.

The Matterhorn in Switzerland is also case in point.

The famous Swiss mountain is developing cracks, leading to more rockfalls and landslides.

“When the high mountains thaw in summer, the stiffness decreases and the ground sediments get soggy and wobbly with water,” said Jan Beutel from the University of Zurich who has been studying the impact on the Matterhorn.

“Cracks expand and move. Many continue to move in the same direction every year and then at some point it’s too much and a small scale of the surface breaks off.”

“If there were more ice in place it wouldn’t be that bad, since the ice cover would still hold these pieces together.”

The scientists have put 50 sensors on the upper areas of the Matterhorn.

The sensors will also allow them to alert mountain guides and climbers to instabilities that may cause rock falls and make climbing routes unstable.

In Switzerland it is predicted that by 2060 the country will have a Mediterranean-style climate.

Already the 1,500 glaciers in the Alpine nation have lost 60% of their volume since 1850.

As the glaciers die they are releasing huge amounts of water that can lead to flooding.

In Zermatt, beneath the Matterhorn, there was severe flooding last Wednesday, July 24th.

Despite no rainfall the Triftbach stream suddenly became a raging torrent after an underground glacial lake released.

No injuries were reported, but bridges were closed with shops and restaurants evacuated in parts of the town.

And glaciers have been melting elsewhere in Switzerland releasing flood waters:

This summer Europe has seen two severe heatwaves – in June and last week.

Record-breaking temperatures were recorded on 25th July.

This has had a severe impact on the glaciers and the mountains themselves.


There is also a significant threat to the alpine ski resorts from the summer melt.

Many of the structures from lift stations, to pylons and high altitude buildings are built into the permafrost and were designed on this basis.

If the permafrost melts then the structures will become unstable with significant potential consequences.

Mont Fort cable car station, Verbier, Switzerland

Mont Fort cable car station, Verbier, Switzerland

The heat of this summer has also had an impact on the summer glacier skiing with rapidly melting conditions.

Tignes has already shut as we reported over the weekend:

And our advice here at PlanetSKI if you fancy summer glacier skiing?