Will the Aletsch Glacier disappear?

post by : florenti.daenzer

Aletsch Glacier


The Aletsch glacier was formed during the last ice age (around 18’000 years ago) and is the bigger glacier from the Alps. It is melting due to global warming but if the global warming can be limited to less than 2° the glacier will probably be shrunk to its half before 2100. Otherwise it will completely disappear before the end of the century.

Since the Aletsch glacier was the biggest European glacier and it has a unique landscape, it is protected and defined as an UNESCO world heritage. As Monika König, manager of communication of Aletsch Arena Tourism Office, explained: “The glacier is highly protected by guards in order that there is no damage due to tourism. Additionally, there is no mass tourism, we mostly have German or Swiss visitors which are very responsible.”



Comparison Iceland – Switzerland


In Iceland since 1995, the glaciers lost around 7% of their mass because of climate change and one of the most important reason for tourists to come to Iceland is to see the glaciers and do some winter activities (such as climbing, hiking, cave tours and snowmobile adventure). If they would not exist anymore, the possible activities would not be done anymore.

On the 18th of August 2019, a mourning ceremony was held to say goodbye for the Okjökull glacier (Iceland) where there is only 1 square meter remaining. Tourists said they felt more concerned about climate change after visiting Iceland where they can see the effects of it.


On the 22nd of September 2019 a similar ceremony was done for the Pizol glacier (small glacier in the Glarus Alps of northern Switzerland) who also disappeared due to climate change. Some new projects in the region and in Switzerland were created; Suspension bridges (Trift Bridge in Bernese Oberland), via ferrata, educational nature trails are constructed and new landscape because of lakes forming which “add value to the landscape”.



The Impact of on Glaciers’ Melting on Tourism


Every year, it at­tracts thou­sands of vis­it­ors from around the world: as the largest ice flow in the Alps, the Great Aletsch Gla­cier is a ma­jor tour­ism draw in the Swiss re­gion of Up­per Val­ais.

The retreat of glaciers also has a major impact on residents:

The glacier attraction is an important source of income. Through snow deficient winters locals have financial problems because they heavily depend on snow availability and the weather and their villages are threatened by the natural hazards.

Since the melting of the glaciers results in mud flows, rock falls, soil slides, erosions and in other threats, the economy has to invest a lot of money to stabilize the soil, to produce artificial snow , to finance important measurements and researches to analyse the dangers of the glaciers for  glacier tours or skiing on the glacier and to analyse the risks for tourists and locals and finally to reconstruct hiking trails in order to fulfil the demands of the tourists.

The melting glaciers have an impact on both summer and winter tourism:



  • Declining profitability especially of the lower-lying winter sports areas, due to
  • decreasing duration of snow cover, shortening the ski season
  • increasing costs for making snow for slopes
  • declining number of guests at mountain railways and tourist accommodation due to uncertain snow conditions
  • declining motivation for winter sports when the Swiss Plateau lacks a winter landscape


  • Increasing damage to tourist buildings, facilities and paths due to rock fall, rock avalanche, debris flows, landslides, floods and forest fires; increasing expenses for maintenance in recreational areas
  • Additional economic damage if the accessibility of a tourist destination is temporarily restricted due to a natural event
  • Increased negative perception of the mountain area as a recreation area / tourism destination after natural events with personal or major property damage

Summarized Climate Change has impacts on agriculture and on tourism industry like cable cars, sports activities which depend on the glacier and weather conditions.


Can Glaciers be saved?


Rhone Glacier has been covered in white sheets to protect it against the sun for 10 years. but “…the costs will soon exceed the economics benefits”, says Huss, a well-known researcher of glaciology. “The Aletsch glacier is too big to be saved with sheets or artificial snow machines, our methods are to make the people as well as the tourists aware of the climate change and its impacts on the glacier “, explained Monika König, the manager of the Aletsch Arena tourist office.


There was an Initiative to save the glaciers in 2019 by the Swiss Association for Climate Protection, the people’s initiative “for a healthy climate” contains the reduction of net emissions in Switzerland to zero by 2050 and is one of the objectives of the Paris climate agreement. Re­gard­ing gla­cier tour­ism in Val­ais, the best-​case scen­ario would be if global warm­ing could be lim­ited to less than 2 de­grees Celsius, as told in the Paris Agree­ment. If the Paris Agreement succeeds, the climate would stabilize by the middle of the century. This would save 40% of the Aletsch glacier’s volume by 2100.



Our Suggestions to the Aletsch Glacier


  • Instead of outdoor skiing, it could be introduced skiing halls which do not depend on snow conditions nor on the glacier.
  • Since some glaciers are too large to cover them or putting artificial snow on them, it would be good to make the people aware of the climate change and its impacts as Monika König suggested. The Aletsch arena already has trails on which explanations, demonstrations and suggestions of the climate change are shown.
  • A future thinking on questions like what alternatives to the glacier attraction and winter sports are, would be good in case the glacier disappears. Unfortunately, the Aletsch Arena does not have an alternative. In their opinion it is too far away.





Presentation Aletsch glacier (2).zip


Daenzer, Florentine - 701_e (2019); Lehmann, Jeannine - 701_e (2019); Meyer, Thibaud - 701_e (2019)


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