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Friday, May 23, 2008

Bad to Worse in the Alps

The month's edition of New Scientist (UK) contains a brief article pointing to soon-to-be-published work by C Marty on the long-term decline in snow days that has been observed in the Swiss Alps. The study (preprint here), which will appear in Geophysical Research Letters, reports:

". . .a significant step-like decrease in snow days at the end of the 1980s with no clear trend since then. This abrupt change resulted in a loss of 20% to 60 % of the total snow days."

While its up to others to interpret the implications of such work - socially, economically and ecologically - clearly adjustments will have to be made to winter recreation activities in the region, particularly if conditions deteriorate further as a result of climate change. The problem, of course, is that this is one of those impacts for which there are some hard limits on adaptation. Snow-making and greater exploitation of summer tourism are common examples of adaptation strategies for snow fields, but these will only go so far.

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