Even if we could stop global warming entirely, ice in the European Alps would still decrease by at least a third by 2050, according to a study published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters. However, the authors warn that if the trend from the past 20 years continues, we are more likely to lose half of the ice.
To get these results, the authors used 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.
Using these models, results show that even if we can stop global warming, glaciers will continue to suffer losses due to inertia in the climate-glacier system. The authors found that more optimistic predictions are far from realistic as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise worldwide. A more realistic projection from the study suggests that if we do nothing and the melting trend of the last 20 years continues, almost half (46%) of the Alps’ ice volume will disappear by 2050. Worryingly, this value will rise to 65% if we consider data from the last ten years alone.
The disappearance of kilometers of ice will significantly affect the population, infrastructure, and water reserves. “The data used to build the scenarios stop in 2022, a year that was followed by an exceptionally hot summer. It is, therefore, likely that the situation will be even worse than the one we present”, said Samuel Cook, a researcher at UNIL and first author of the study.
The simulations were conducted using AI algorithms. The team used deep-learning methods to “teach” their model about physical concepts and then fed it real climate and glaciological data. “Machine learning is revolutionising the integration of complex data into our models. This essential step, previously notoriously complicated and computationally expensive, is now becoming more accurate and efficient”, explained Guillaume Jouvet, Prof at the FGSE and co-author of the study.
J. Cook, G. Jouvet, R. Millan, A. Rabatel, H. Zekollari, I. Dussaillant, Committed Ice Loss in the European Alps Until 2050 Using a Deep-Learning-Aided 3D Ice-Flow Model With Data Assimilation, Geophysical Research Letters