After a relatively quiet winter for doom predictions for the apparently endangered species of â€˜snow’ in Europe’s Alps, the respected Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos, has published some of the most worrying predictions yet for Alpine snow cover in the 21st century.
The Institute’s findings, published in New Scientist magazine, are based on data collected over the past decade from more than 30 weather stations located between 200m and 1800m above sea level. It found that, notwithstanding the recent generally good winter of 2007-8, the average number of snow days over the past two decades is lower than at any point since records began more than a century ago. The scientists report that there was a â€œstep likeâ€ decrease in average snowfall at the end of the 1980s from which there has been no step back up over the past 20 years. In the worst years, such as 2006-7, snow days were up to 60% worse than the average in the 1980s.
The scientist said it was hard to say whether the tipping point at which it was already too late to reverse the trend has already passed and also believe we are currently seeing the results of mankind’s activities up to the mid-1980s, with activity taking 20 years to filter through to measurable environmental results. Therefore any improvements in mankind’s behaviour (yet to be seen overall) would take another 20 years to have a positive impact.
The institute’s scientists also looked at the period between 1948 and 1987 and compared that with the past 20 years. It showed that at low altitudes — up to 800 metres — the number of â€˜snow days’, with enough to make a snowman, has fallen from 28 days to 13. At mid altitudes — up to 1,300 metres — days suitable for cross-country skiing have gone down from 55 to 38. And at top altitudes, for downhill skiing, the figures fell from 93 to 74 days.
Overall the study was more gloomy than a widely publicized UN study four years ago which predicted that about half of ski centres would become unviable as ski centres by about 2060.
If the scientific projections are correct, the demise of winter sports are likely to be less significant than the danger to property and life caused by rock slides and similar as previously permanently â€˜frozen together’ areas of the Alps thaw out and crumble.