Home News Glacier Collapses Are a Growing but Hard-to-Predict Threat

Glacier Collapses Are a Growing but Hard-to-Predict Threat


Due to the risk of further ice avalanches, and an ongoing police investigation, Maggi and any of his colleagues were unable to travel to the scene in person. But their communiqué at the end of the meeting may provide the clearest picture yet of the physics behind the collapse.

It identified a number of contributing factors – the steep slope below the secondary Punta Rocca, where the ice broke off the peak; the fact that this part of the ice had shrunk to the point where it separated from the main body of the glacier; and the presence of a large fissure, just Like a perforation on a postage stamp, it becomes a fault line along which the fault line is cut.

“What happened — well, we think what happened, because there’s no possibility of a full investigation, we can’t say for sure,” Maggi said, “was that there was water in this fissure, creating pressure and pushing until it collapsed.”

Media reports referred to the heatwave for much of the lead-up to the event, with a temperature of 10 degrees Celsius recorded near the 3,343-meter altitude of the summit of Marmolada the day before the collapse. But while these conditions may be the ultimate trigger, Italian and international experts have warned against putting too much emphasis on the day’s high temperatures or short-term weather patterns. “I think it’s very important to say it’s not the only reason, as sometimes reported or implied,” said Matthias Huss, professor of glaciology at ETH at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. “It’s the long-term evolution of glaciers. caused this to happen.”

Of course, this long-term condition of the glacier can be monitored. In Huss’ home country of Switzerland, early warning systems have had several notable successes, including so far predicting that the overhanging glacier at Weissmies will collapse in 2017. The Saas Grund staff were evacuated for only one night,” Huss said.

In Italy, the looming threat of the Planpincieux glacier from the Val d’Aosta region led to the installation of the country’s first visual glacier monitoring system in 2013. Daniele Giordan of the Italian Institute for Geological and Hydrological Conservation, whose team designed it, explained that his system is very simple. “We use Canon DSLRs, the kind you can buy on Amazon.” This feeds the images to an office in Turin, where they are processed by custom-developed algorithms. “It’s a digital image correlation algorithm — from a very well-known family of algorithms that can detect motion in a set of images. For example, they’re used to control the speed of cars on smart highways,” he said.

Because the camera began to pick up visual cues of a potential collapse, it was backed by interferometric synthetic aperture radar — similar to the one used by Wessmith in Switzerland — which bounced waves off ice to provide a more accurate, potentially dangerous acceleration Movement of readings. But such systems are expensive.

“Val d’Aosta invested hundreds of thousands of euros in this monitoring system,” says Giordan. “Possibly 10 times the cost of our initial system.” While this combination has proven effective, leading to early warnings in 2019 and 2020, the system must be very targeted.

Of course, for a monitoring system to work, “it needs to focus on glaciers or areas where glaciers are likely to collapse,” Maggi said. The problem is “Italy has over 900 glaciers, and you have to know where to look.”

Most of the world’s glaciers currently being monitored have large, pronounced ice cones or overhangs, Huss explained. “Even if you’re not a scientist, you can see how dangerous they are. But that’s not the case with Marmolada.”

Even with a monitoring system in place, there is no guarantee that it will detect any signs. “Inside the glacier, there must be a lot of water,” Maggi said. “It’s easy to see from the video. But outside the glacier, no one sees more water than usual.” Meanwhile, submersion and play in the detachment, according to a statement from the Glaciology Council Cracks in important roles “have been around for several years” and are not seen as ominous. The committee noted that fissures “are a normal part of glacier dynamics”.

That’s not to say that any future monitoring efforts — whether on Marmolada or other similar glaciers — will be completely futile. “I’m not proposing our vision system as a solution,” Giordan said, “but definitely having this data is better than nothing.” He and his colleagues are currently conducting a study that shows that even with basic Paired with webcams, their algorithms can also provide useful results.

As glacier retreat worsens around the world, this low-cost solution could help save lives in countries from the Andes to Central Asia with tighter budgets than Italy or Switzerland. Although Marmolada collapses are unpredictable, scientists who study these mountains, and the guides and guardians who work within them, agree that as the planet warms, such events will only become more common—a real relief The only way for the mountain to collapse. Risk is through comprehensive international action on carbon emissions. “These are the effects of global warming,” said Cappazzanbanini, a mountain guide. “We can say it’s unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not our fault.”

At the foot of Marmolada, tape from the police incident still blocked the way to the summit, but the small bouquets of flowers left by mourners had begun to wither in the hot summer. The media circus moved on and the visitors returned to the terrace of the Cima Undici restaurant. If you ignore the news cycle, you might be forgiven for thinking that nothing happened here. It’s just every now and then that someone points their phone upwards, and 1,200 meters above our heads, the deep scars are still clearly visible.

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