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Europe’s southernmost glacier is likely to disappear

Global warming has massive effects, as demonstrated by Italy’s Calderone glacier, the only one in the Apennines, which could melt for good.

The only glacier of the Apennine Mountains, the Calderone, will disappear if current melting rates are not curbed. Over the past 50 years, the European southernmost glacier lost 33 per cent of its extension, shrinking from a surface of 0.07 square kilometres in the early 1990s to only 0.04 square kilometres.

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The Calderone glacier during summer © R. Tonelli, 2011-2012

The problem has been highlighted by the latest Italian Glacier Inventory, edited by Claudio Smiraglia and Guglielmina Diolaiuti of the Department of Earth Sciences of the University of Milan, on behalf of the Italian Glaciological Committee. The glacier is located in the Abruzzo region, central Italy, close to Corno Grande and the Gran Sasso d’Italia. It has endured the passing of time and global warming, also thanks to rocks and debris protecting it from sun rays.

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The Calderone glacier during winter © R. Tonelli, 2011-2012

But this won’t be enough, especially if autumns will be characterised by “Indian summers”, i.e. a period of unseasonably warm weather that sometimes occurs in autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. This phenomenon extends melting phases, reducing ice accumulation periods.

The Calderone glacier fragmented and in 2000 was divided into two smaller glaciers. A condition that, according to the study’s authors, is a sad example essential to warn about other glaciers in the Italian peninsula, such as Alps.

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The Calderone glacier in 1916 © L. Ricci, O. Marinelli, archivio Cgi

“Future scenarios are negative. The two small glaciers can endure for long, since there are partly protected by rocky debris covering them. However, it’s very unlikely the glacier to recover, unless a significant but improbable trend reversal will take place,” said Smiraglia.

Who knows if future generations will be able to walk on a glacier or they will just see it in old photos, and will be told that there used to be an expression saying that peaks are sprinkled with sugar on the top.

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