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They are a symbol for majestic, unspoilt nature and their beauty is not only to the alpinists’ delight – the glistening glaciers of the Alps. But they melt and retreat with every year. Only half of the 5,000 alpine glaciers will still be there in 20 years, predict some glaciologists. And the ones still there will be considerably smaller. What’s the matter with our glaciers? Do they show us – as is often claimed – that they are very vulnerable to climatic warning?
Whatever the reasons of the retreat of the glaciers – natural life circles or drastically influenced by man – the glaciers need our protection and we need our glaciers. They are part of our national identity, mark our landscape in an impressive way and in a tourist province like the Tyrol we also need them for winter sports. Since we don’t want to lose our snow-covered ground, we cannot wait for the next growth period to set in and watch our precious glaciers melt away. How best to help the glacier? Leave them alone? Eternal peace for short-lived ice? Omissions rarely solve problems. In this case too dynamic strategies are required to prevent the retreat of the glaciers. The Stubai Glacier was among the first glaciers to enjoy pioneering glacier protection services. In the early years of the third millennium scientists and practical persons pondered how to best prevent or slow-down the melting of the snow at neuralgic spots of the glacier. By watching so-called “glacier tables” (the ice base there is protected by the shade of rock boulders) they came up with the idea to cover the snow blanket with a fleece.
The conservation measures for glaciers are very expensive though and require a lot of personnel and working time. A separate machine for rolling out and in the blankets that are placed and pinned down with sandbags on the Stubai Glacier on an area of ten hectares has been designed. Still, eight workers and two piste machines are needed for three weeks in spring and autumn to place and remove the carpet. The white blankets are two millimetres thick, tear-resistant and weather-proof. They can be reused for three or even four seasons. But of course they have their price. Moreover, a hall for storing the blankets had to be built.Altogether glacier protection amounts to several hundreds of thousands of Euros annually. The lifts pay for all of it. The investments and efforts are justified though, since the glacier and ski operation are secured this way. But is not skiing itself a danger for the snow cover? If one could ask the glacier it would probably answer:“Oh, the skiers, these little snow fleas can glide down my slopes as often as they want to. I don’t care. And in this case they are my best chance for surviving proudly for a very long time. “
More on glacier protection in the ski area in our Stubai Glacier Magazine April 2014