Dramatic loss of remaining glaciers in Pyrenees, so study shows

by Lorraine Williamson
Pyrenees and global warming

MADRID – Over the next few decades, global warming will transform Europe’s most southerly glaciers into insignificant patches of ice. The glaciers in the Pyrenees are melting in a constant but rapid manner. 

This is what Spanish scientists conclude in a new study. The Pyrenees form the natural border between Spain and France. And since 2011, glaciers here have disappeared or turned into ice patches. Furthermore, 17 of the 20 remaining ice sheets have lost an average of 6.3 metres of ice. 

Ice mass has fallen on average by more than a fifth, or by 23% in about a decade. This is what the scientists write in their study, published last week in Geophysical Research Letters, and has been peer-reviewed. 

The Spanish researchers conclude that climate change is responsible for the reduction of ice. Specifically, they see the temperature warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius in the Pyrenees since the nineteenth century as responsible. 


“What we’re seeing here is a warning of what could happen in other mountainous regions like the Alps,” said Jesús Revuelto, one of the authors of the study. “The glaciers there have a much greater mass, but we show them the way.” 

The loss of ice mass is a ‘tragedy’ for the landscape of the Pyrenees. Such effects on biodiversity have not been seen until now, said geologist Ixeia Vidaller, one of the study co-authors. 

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Satellite images and drone footage 

The scientists work in the Pyrenees Institute for the Environment (IPE), which falls under CSIC. They used satellite images and recordings from research aircraft in 2011 to map the evolution of the glaciers. Data obtained was compared during visits to the glaciers and 3D models of the mountains created last summer using drones. 

Reduction of largest ice sheets 

Researchers showed the loss of ice up to 20 metres thick in parts of the glaciers that are melting the fastest. The reductions of the four largest ice sheets, they say, are more consistent than those of the smaller ice sheets studied. This is because the ice here has often retreated to the shadows of the ridges carved by centuries of erosion. 

The annual amount of ice loss has not decreased since the 1980s. As such, researchers found results consistent with other current studies in this regard. 

Glaciers of the Pyrenees critically endangered 

“We can say with certainty the glaciers in the Pyrenees are under serious threat. They could disappear or turn into residual ice patches in about two decades,” the researchers write. 

IPPC Climate Report 

The recent IPPC Climate Report conducted by United Nations scientists clearly shows the role humanity has in climate change. This is seen as an ‘established fact’. The report also writes temperatures are likely to exceed the level of warming that world leaders have been trying to prevent within a decade. 

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