The former Mecca of summer skiing, now barely the size of a park: Alpe d’Huez officially loses its glacier | Science and the planet

The Sarenne Glacier near Alpe d’Huez has officially melted. Due to an exceptionally warm and sunny September, it has shrunk to the size of a small garden. This was the Mecca of summer skiing. After 75 years of research, this glacier in the French Alps will no longer be measured within the framework of the Glacioclim Observatory. The end of the series of historical measurements.

In the 1980s, the Sarenne Glacier near Alpe d’Huez was still tens of meters thick. However, since it is located at an altitude of only 3,000 meters and towards the south, this glacier has not been able to escape the effects of climate change. In recent decades, the glacier has shrunk very rapidly, and on October 16, scientists from the Institute of Environmental Sciences in Grenoble made their last measurement: a beacon protruding above 47 cm of ice, with a size of 47 cm. 10 square meters. This was the last measurement on the Saren Glacier.

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Measuring ice sticks on the Alpe d’Huez Glacier. © Le Dauphin

This marks the end of the longest measuring chain of glaciers in the French Alps, which began in 1949 and was among the ten longest measuring chains in the world. The measurements began with forest rangers from the area, and later glaciologists took over as part of the Glacioclim Observatory.

For scientists, the loss of this glacier means more than just the disappearance of ice. It was a particularly valuable measuring tool, a model reference glacier. The glacier has been closely monitored for at least 75 years. But 2023 will be the last year for measurements.

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The summer ski area on the Sarenne Glacier in Alpe d'Huez as it was before.
The summer ski area on the Sarenne Glacier in Alpe d’Huez as it was before. ©

In 1963, access to the Saren Glacier was made possible through the construction of lifts. Then, in 1969, Alpe d’Huez opened its glacier lift with the aim of promoting summer skiing on a “crack-free” glacier. Initially this was such a success that the Saren Glacier was described as a “Mecca for summer skiing”.

Although the installation of a ski lift at the refuge in 1984 tripled the summer ski area, six years later there was great disappointment when the glacier could not be opened. It has lost so much of its size that between 1988 and 1993 the ski lifts were dismantled step by step. At the beginning of September, the last chairlift on the glacier, named “TSF Glacier”, was dismantled.

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On 2 September 2023, the International Glacier Society (IGS) organized a symbolic funeral for the Sarin Glacier to draw attention to the impact of climate change. Among those present was 81-year-old glaciologist François Falla, who has spent 33 years studying the Sarenne Glacier: “My heart hurts because when I started, I never imagined that the glacier would disappear in my lifetime. Never…” The melting has passed Sarin Glacier all expectations. In 2019, a funeral was also held in Switzerland for the Pizol Glacier.

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Denton Watson

"Friend of animals everywhere. Evil twitter fan. Pop culture evangelist. Introvert."

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