"A glacier collapse like in the Dolomites would not surprise me in Switzerland", says a glaciologist

A glacier collapse occurred in the Dolomites on Sunday, claiming several lives. Climate and glacier researcher David Volken sees the cause in the high temperatures of the past weeks.

Franco Arnold

04.07.2022, 18.12 Uhr


On Sunday, the Marmolata glacier in the Dolomites broke off. Imago

David Volken, were you surprised by such a massive glacier collapse, which claimed several lives in the Dolomites on Sunday?

- No, I was not surprised. In Switzerland we had the second warmest May since records began, in France it was the warmest May. And in June, too, the temperatures were extremely high. Maximum temperatures were measured at many measuring stations in the Swiss Alps - on the Jungfraujoch, for example, the temperatures did not even go below zero degrees for several days. On the Punta Rocca, where this glacier collapse occurred, the mercury did not drop below zero for many days.

So the cause of the glacier collapse is the heat?

- Yes, it is definitely due to the high temperatures.

For the extreme mountaineer Reinhold Messner, who knows the region, the break-off is a consequence of global warming. Do you share this assessment?

- Yes. Climate change is responsible for causing the demolition.

Do we now have to expect more occurrences in the Alps like those in the Dolomites?

- Definitely. The hotter it gets, the more the glaciers at high altitudes are affected. Such a glacier pocket outburst as in the Dolomites - where an underground lake in the glacier suddenly empties - also occurred in summer 2019 at the Trift glacier above Zermatt. This led to a Flooding in the village, and only by luck no people were harmed.

How an underground lake empties into the glacier

2Source: David Volken

Is it even possible to monitor glaciers? Or do we just have to live with this risk?

- You can monitor them oberflächlich with cameras. But that doesn't work for every glacier. In addition, underground water outbursts, as in the case of the Dolomites, cannot be predicted.

Are there no signs that could be interpreted?

- It is possible, but also very difficult. You can't see inside the glaciers.

How do you assess the current situation?

- On many glaciers, the snow and ice are melting extremely fast. On Sunday, I saw an above-ground glacial lake on the Jungfraujoch that I had never seen before. What is extreme is that the melting starts so early in the year. It was additionally intensified by the Sahara dust.


The person

3David Volken Dr David Volken is a climate scientist and glacier expert. He has been studying the development of Alpine glaciers for many years.