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Glaciers: The importance of the "eternal ice"

Posted on February 14 2020

Climate change is real and devastating natural disasters are becoming more and more frequent. Entire areas of forest are burning, animal species extinct – and there is another event that is happening very slowly but with serious consequences: the melting of glaciers.


Aletschgletscher, Switzerland

We at NIKIN are particularly committed to the protection of forests worldwide. But it is not only the forests but also the glaciers that are disappearing – global warming is having fatal consequences due to the water stored in the ice, which is being released at an ever-faster rate, causing sea levels to rise. These consequences affect not only nature and the environment, but also us humans. The water's up to our necks – and therefore it is inevitable to stop this rapid glacier shrinkage.

What are glaciers?

Glaciers are masses of ice that are formed from compressed snow. It is hard to imagine the incredible masses of snow it takes to create the largest glaciers. For a glacier to be able to form at all, various conditions must be met. The most important of these is that there must be sufficient snowfall every year for a very long time. The snow must fall in such large quantities that less melts than remains. Thus a little snow is added every year. The lightweight snowflake becomes a heavy load in large quantities. Gradually, the lower layers are compressed and turn to ice.

Always on the move

As glaciers form far above the snowline, in mountainous regions, another element is added – the motion. The heavy ice load does not stay where it is but slides down to the valley. Always only in centimetres, but noticeably. In the process, the ice masses shape, grind and scrape the landscape, carrying with them huge boulders and other matter that remains long after the glacier has ceased to exist. The traces of the last ice age can still be seen in Central Europe, which is meanwhile warm again.

Glaciers – they are the biggest!

Due to their compressed water masses, glaciers are the largest water reservoirs after the oceans – and thus have a considerable influence on the global climate. The largest glaciers in the world are:

  • the largest glacier in the world is the Lambert Glacier in East Antarctica
  • the Icelandic Vatnajökull is considered the largest glacier in Europe
  • the Jostedalsbreen in Norway is the largest glacier on the European mainland
  • the longest in Switzerland is the Aletsch Glacier
  • the Malaspina Glacier in Alaska is the largest glacier outside the polar regions
  • in the tropical zone the Peruvian Quelccaya is the largest glacier
  • the Campo de Hielo Sur is the largest glacier in South America
  • in Germany the Schneeferner is the number one
  • in Austria the Pasterzen glacier is the largest
  • in the Caucasus, the home of high mountains, the Bezengi is the largest ice mass


Breiðamerkurjökull, Vatnajökull

Breiðamerkurjökull (Vatnajökull), Iceland

Swiss glaciers – acutely threatened!

Switzerland has a lot to offer in terms of glaciers. They are part of our landscape but are acutely threatened by climate change. The Aletsch Glacier is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, but the Rhone, Fee and other glaciers are also landmarks of Switzerland. In the last two decades, the ice giants, which previously pushed their way down to the valley centimetres at a time, have retreated – often by several kilometres. Climate protection in Switzerland is also and above all glacier protection. Almost seven hundred glaciers are said to have already disappeared – the phenomenon is so striking that environmental activists have already held funeral marches for "dead" glaciers.

Why are the glaciers disappearing?

The ice masses are of course suffering from the rising temperatures worldwide. At least as devastating is the absence of snowfall – because the glaciers are no longer "fed" by it. The consequence is that more ice is melting than can be newly formed. To a certain extent, the glacier regresses. According to experts concerned with the future of Swiss glaciers, most of the smaller glaciers will have disappeared by 2050. Fifty years later, only parts of the larger glaciers will still exist. This will affect the water balance and the stability of the rock and soil layers in the mountains, but also the fauna and flora.

Protecting the glaciers through climate protection!

Global rethinking is necessary to preserve glaciers as a unique biotope worldwide. It does not help to debate for years. Every single person has a responsibility. And this means that we must become more sustainable in our consumer behaviour and our habits. It won't work without renunciation – but if we look beyond our own small surroundings, we will preserve the wonders of our world for our children and grandchildren. This is what we at NIKIN want to do. 


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