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Fast-moving glacier threatens valley in Mont Blanc massif

Experts monitoring the massive Planpincieux glacier said they are recording ice movements of up to 50cm a day.

Risk of part of the Planpincieux glacier breaking off has prompted Italian authorities to forbid hikers from a section of the Val Ferrat area (Randall Hackley/AP)
Risk of part of the Planpincieux glacier breaking off has prompted Italian authorities to forbid hikers from a section of the Val Ferrat area (Randall Hackley/AP)

By Associated Press Reporter

A fast-moving, melting glacier is threatening a picturesque Italian valley near the north-western mountain town of Courmayeur, prompting the mayor to close down an access road.

Mayor Stefano Miserocchi has forbidden access to a section of the Val Ferret, outside of Courmayeur, a popular hiking area on the south side of the Mont Blanc massif.

The precaution was taken after experts monitoring the massive Planpincieux glacier said they are recording ice movements of up to 50cm (nearly 20 inches) a day.

They warned that a 250,000-cubic-metre mass of the 1,327 sq km (512 sq m) glacier was at risk of collapsing.

It is an alarm that we cannot be indifferent to Italian premier Giuseppe Conte

“There are no models to tell us if it will fall entirely or in pieces,” the mayor told Sky TG24. “We need to keep an eye on the monitoring.”

He emphasised that even if a large chunk of the glacier collapses, no residents would be at risk, just the area of road that has been closed.

The glacier is located in the Alps on the Grande Jorasses peak of the Mont Blanc massif, which straddles the borders of Italy, France and Switzerland and contains the highest peak in Western Europe.

Officials said unusually high temperatures during August and September had accelerated the ice melt of the Planpincieux, which is has been monitored by the Safe Mountain Foundation since 2013.

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte alerted world leaders to risk of the glacier’s collapse during his address on Tuesday to the UN General Assembly in New York City.

“It is an alarm that we cannot be indifferent to,” he said.

Courmayeur was not affected by the mayor’s order and no one has been evacuated, Courmayeur spokesman Moreno Vignolini said on Wednesday, adding that the road that was closed is used mostly to access summer homes.

The mayor was meeting with residents and homeowners to hear their concerns. Some limited access was being granted for people who needed to check their property.

A new special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said on Wednesday that glaciers around the world, outside of Greenland and Antarctica but including Europe, are losing 220 billion metric tons of ice a year. The report said glacier melt is happening faster than before and is accelerating.

The report projects that if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, these glaciers in general will shrink 36% between now and the end of the century. But smaller glaciers, like those in the Alps, could lose up to 80% of their ice by the year 2100 in a worst-case scenario.

“Many glaciers are projected to disappear regardless of future emissions,” the new science report said.

PA

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