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Effects of climate crisis visible in the Alps

Scientists have used satellite data from space to track how the climate crisis is affecting Alpine regions and have discovered it’s becoming greener.

Researchers from the University of Lausanne and the University of Basel focused on the Alps and found vegetation above the tree line has increased by nearly 80% since 1984.

The data showed that in areas excluding regions below 1.700 metres, glaciers and forests, snow cover has decreased by 10%, a slight but significant figure.

‘Previous analyses of satellite data hadn’t identified any such trend,’ explained Antoine Guisan, one of the two senior authors of the study. ‘This may be because the resolution of the satellite images was insufficient or because the periods considered were too short.’

Snow depth levels at low elevations have already been found to have decreased, according to local ground-based measurements, leaving some areas largely without snow cover.

Scientists believe this trend will only continue as the earth gets warmer, as well as melting glaciers and thawing permafrost which can cause landslides, rockfalls and mudflows.

‘Greener mountains reflect less sunlight and therefore lead to further warming – and, in turn, to further shrinkage of reflective snow cover,’ said Sabine Rumpf, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the University of Basel.

Snow and ice are vital to drinking supplies and play an important role in tourism and recreational industries across the world.

The rise in vegetation is thought to be due to different species growing in new areas, pushing out native species, and plants becoming denser and taller.

‘The scale of the change has turned out to be absolutely massive in the Alps,’ added Rumpf. ‘Alpine plants are adapted to harsh conditions, but they’re not very competitive. The unique biodiversity of the Alps is therefore under considerable pressure.’

Rising temperatures have led to changes in rainfall patterns and longer vegetation patterns causing this greening phenomenon.

Photo by Sabine Rumpf

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