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3 May 2017

Can Artificial Snow Save Shrinking Glaciers?

With rising global temperatures causing glaciers to shrink year on year, solutions to reverse these effects seem out of reach and scarcely explored.  ‘Re-growing’ glaciers seems like an odd and ambitious aim, but a group of scientists are looking to do just that with artificially-generated snow.

Scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands are looking to create masses of fake snow to ultimately cover the Moteratsch glacier in the Swiss Alps. Why? To protect the ice below during the summer months and therefore allow the glacier to grow.

The Moteratsch glacier is a popular attraction in the Swiss Alps, seen as a national treasure due to being the only glacier with an easily accessible ‘snout’ – or terminus, if we’re getting technical. From observation over time, Moteratsch has been shrinking at around 30-40 metres per year, being 8.5 kilometres in length in 1860, reducing to its current length of 6 kilometres.

With the new plan to restore the glacier, researcher Johannes Oerlemans of Utrecht University believes that the length could increase by an impressive 800 metres within the next 20 years. “As long as there’s snow on top, the ice beneath is unaffected,” he said, at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, Austria last week on 27th April.

Oerlemans continues in saying that it would take 4000 snow machines to cover Moteratsch, which would spray snow, as well as air and water to ultimately protect and cool the glacier ice below.

To allow the project to be funded by the Swiss government, the approach is currently being piloted on the smaller Diavolezzafirn glacier, in hopes that the results are effective. This smaller project is being funded by the passionate locals, in a bid to receive a million euro investment from the Swiss government to save Moteratsch.

This move is first of its kind of such a large scale in a bid to reverse the negative effects of global warming. Many other future projects across the world could be inspired by the Swiss project if the results prove the use of artificial snow effective. 

Laura Sewell

An aspiring journalist, Laura is our content writer intern.  Pop-punk gig-goer and drag queen enthusiast, Laura is working her way into the industry with an English A -Level and love of writing about anything and everything in tow.