Appearance of explosive WWI relics underscores Alps glaciers' retreat
The Alps' glaciers are in retreat at an alarming rate due to rising temperatures – as indicated by the discovery of rusted explosives left over from a nearly hundred-year-old cache.
They lay undetected for more than a century, a hidden legacy of the highest, most forbidding battlefield of World War I.Skip to next paragraph
Gallery Disappearing glaciers
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But last month, as Italy sweltered through one of the hottest summers on record, a cache of more than 200 rusted explosives emerged from beneath a melting sheet of ice in the Dolomite range in the country’s north.
The appearance of the explosives – at the end of the hottest summer since 2003 and one of the warmest since record keeping began – fed concerns about Italy’s rapidly dwindling glaciers and the threat posed by global warming. Across the Alps – not just in Italy but in neighboring Austria, Switzerland, and France – glaciers are in retreat at an alarming rate due to rising temperatures.
“In the worst-case scenario, by the end of the century glaciers in the Alps will be reduced to 5 to 10 percent of what we have now,” says Michael Zemp, a scientist with the World Glacier Monitoring Service.
'Strange objects' in the ice
The explosives – probably stored in an ammunition dump carved into what was once a massive glacier – were discovered by mountain-rescue experts during a routine border-police patrol.
They emerged from the 10,500-foot-high Ago di Nardis glacier in the Trentino region of northern Italy, which, during World War I, was bitterly contested by Italian troops fighting the opposing forces of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The armaments, each weighing up to 22 lbs., were removed after the patrol noticed “strange objects” sticking out of the melting mass of ice.
The discovery was one of the more unusual manifestations of a phenomenon that has governments, economists, and environmentalists deeply worried.
Mountaineers and hikers are also seeing more avalanches and rock falls as the morphology of the Alps changes.
When a large iron cross tumbled from its pedestal on the summit of the Dolomites’ highest peak earlier this month, its collapse was blamed on its rock base fracturing as a result of melting permafrost.
Four days later, mountain climbers in Austria removed a similar cross from the 11,800-foot-high Grossvenediger peak because they feared it, too, had become dangerously unstable.
A worsening trend
More than half of the ice-covered area of the Alps has disappeared since 1850, the end of a cold spell known as the Little Ice Age.