Following May’s approval by the Italian parliament, the Swiss parliament will soon vote on a draft law to redraw some high-altitude sections of the frontier Alps border between Switzerland and Italy due to “radical changes” in snowfields and glaciers over the past century.
|Recession of the Morteratsch Glacier, Switzerland (just north of the Italian border) between 1985 and 2007. Source: UNEP. Click to enlarge.|
The changes, which were recommended by the Italian Military Geographic Institute and Switzerland’s Office of Topography after four years of study, are required because the border in that area is determined by the watershed: specifically, the snow ridges along some of the area’s mountains, as well as glacier shrinkage. Maximum border shift is expected to be in the range of 100 to 150 meters at some locations. The border between the two countries was first established in 1861.
Italy had previously reached a similar agreement with Austria, and is in talks with France about proposed changes in their shared border.
According to the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) in Zurich, more than half of Switzerland’s glacier mass and 40% of Europe’s glacier mass has disappeared since 1850. Europe’s southernmost glaciers are shrinking more quickly than those in the north, with glaciers in Spain’s Pyrenees mountains having declined by nine-tenths in the last hundred years.
A joint report issued last year by WGMS and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) concluded that “the ongoing trend of worldwide and rapid, if not accelerating, glacier shrinkage on the century time scale is most likely of a non-periodic nature, and may lead to the deglaciation of large parts of many mountain ranges in the coming decades.”
WGMS/UNEP: Global Glacier Changes: Fact and Figures, 2008