Even if global warming were stopped completely, the amount of ice in the European Alps would decrease by 34% by 2050. However, if the trend observed over the past 20 years continues at the same pace, almost half of the ice volume will be lost, scientists at the University of Lausanne (UNIL, Switzerland) have shown in a new international study.
By 2050, i.e. in 26 years, we will have lost at least 34% of the ice volume of the European Alps, even if global warming were stopped completely and immediately. This is the prediction of a new computer model developed by scientists from the Faculty of Geosciences and Environment at the University of Lausanne (UNIL) in collaboration with the University of Grenoble, ETHZ and the University of Zurich.
In this scenario, developed using machine learning algorithms and climate data, warming stops in 2022, but glaciers continue to suffer losses due to the inertia of the climate-glacier system. However, this most optimistic forecast of all is far from a realistic future scenario as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise worldwide. In reality, more than half of the ice volume will disappear
Another more realistic forecast from the study shows that without changes or drastic measures, if the melting trend of the last 20 years continues, by 2050 almost half (46%) of the Alps' ice volume will actually have disappeared, which could even rise to 65% if we alone extrapolate the data from the last ten years.
2050: the near future
Unlike traditional models that estimate out to the end of the century, the new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, takes the shorter time period into account, making it easier to see the relevance to our own lives and thus inspire action . How old will our children be in 2050? Will it still snow in 2038 when Switzerland could host the Olympic Games?
These estimates are all the more important because the disappearance of kilometers of ice will have significant consequences for population, infrastructure and water reserves. “The data used to create the scenarios ends in 2022, a year that was followed by an exceptionally hot summer. Therefore, it is likely that the situation is even worse than what we portray,” says Samuel Cook, UNIL researcher and lead author of the study.
Artificial intelligence drives models
The simulations were carried out using artificial intelligence algorithms. Using deep learning methods, the scientists trained their model to understand physical concepts and fed it real climate and glaciological data. «Machine learning is revolutionizing the integration of complex data into our models. This essential step, previously notoriously complicated and computationally intensive, is now more precise and efficient,” explains Guillaume Jouvet, professor at FGSE and co-author of the study.
Determined ice loss in the European Alps by 2050 using a deep learning-powered 3D ice flow model with data assimilation
Photo: UNIL – GUILLAUME JOUVET