How are you glaciers doing? Face to Face with Luca Mercalli

Bashed by rising temperatures. Tortured by the lack of precipitation, asphyxiated by pollution. Our glaciers suffer what experts call global warming. And they are the first to pay for it.

Last summer, Breuil – Cervinia, within the well-established celebration “Author’s Paths”, organised by the municipal administration and the Culture Committee of Valtournenche, in collaboration with Alpes Agency, hosted the meteorologist Luca Mercalli, one of the most important Italian climatology researchers, president of the Italian Meteorological Society, director of Nimbus magazine and journalist for La Stampa and RAI-Radio Televisione Italiana. His studies on the history of the climate and on the transformation of the glaciers of the Alps have also covered those of the Matterhorn. And so, on August 17th, Mercalli, with the logistic support of the Matterhorn Guides, accompanied some hikers on the Plateau Rosa, organised the meeting “Glaciers in retreat, sentinels of global warming”.

On that occasion you gave the opportunity to a group of people to get to know the alarming situation or glaciers are facing. What did you notice?

We were in the heat of the second hottest summer of the last 250 years, after that of 2003. I saw a helpless glacier under the rays of the sun, devoid of the snow protection that should nourish it in its most elevated parts. A glacier once again in retirement.

This summer’s scorching temperatures have worsened the situation. Some snowfields have even disappeared. Teodulo’s canal has thawed. What are the risks we face?

The almost total disappearance of the alpine glaciers within this century, if the temperature continues to increase as a result of the polluting emissions of our economy.

The “expedition”you led on August 17th saw protagonist the most famous glacier of the Breuil basin. We ski summer and winter and it’s worrying to see it shrinking. What is its health status?

As all Alpine glaciers itis not in great health. It loses more mass in summer than what it cangainduring winter. This year, measurements on the glaciers of the Western Alps showed a loss of about one and a half metres of ice.
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What are the predictions for the future, in the light of your studies?

According to the Paris agreements, if we undertake appropriate energy choices towards renewable sources by reducing the use of fossil fuels, we could keep the temperature rise within two degrees by 2100: we will still lose a bit of ice but we will save at least the glaciers at high altitude. If the Paris agreementswill not be respected though, the global temperature would rise by more than five degrees and then farewell glaciers – the Alps would become similar to desert mountains. Of course, these are the results of international scientific research, certainly not mine! There is now a full agreement among researchers around the world on the severity of these scenarios, which unfortunately we continue to underestimate.

How should we behave? If there is still a way to repair humanity’s climate damage.

We can no longer heal the climatic disease, but we can relieve the symptoms! Two degrees is better than five, as when we have a fever… But for this result you should observe a strict diet: less waste, less fossil energy. We are not yet doing it, we continue to say: tomorrow, tomorrow!

The fires of Piedmont. What is the impact of such prolonged and so protracted blazes on climate change?

It is the opposite: climate change – long drought and high temperatures – has favoured the diffusion of fire, which has always been ignited by human hands. Smoke also contributed to polluting the air, but this is a local and temporary matter, solved by the first rains.

What kind of winter will we see at the end of 2017?

It can not be predicted. Today, a good local-scale forecast has a validity of about a week, pushing further would be unreliable, for now detailed forecasts with a month or a season’s validity are still experimental and can not be used in practical terms.

And what kind of summer should we expect?

As above!


There are some who talk about the arrival of a small glaciation in the years to come. Others, on the other hand, warn about the continuous rise of global temperature resulting in the thawing of glaciers and rising of the oceans. What is your point of view?

This is not a point of view but scientific data: glaciation is far from being reached, and it is a classic fake-news, propagated by individuals outside the scientific community of climatologists. Instead global warming is now a reality certified by measured data (we live in the hottest years of the history of meteorological observations) and by international research and officially sanctioned by the IPCC the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which publishes every five years its resume destined to political decision-makers around the world. The fact is that these studies of great authority are put on the same level as the views of the first rascal openinghis mouth, an attitude that unfortunately slows down virtuous decisions that could diminish future risk. Glacier thawing is also a consequence of this awful habit.