Authorities have closed roads and evacuated homes amid fears that a huge glacier on the Italian side of Mont Blanc will collapse at any time.
Experts have warned that a portion of a glacier on Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe, will collapse and isolate residents living in an area of the Italian town of Courmayeur (a popular hiking and skiing resort) in the Valle d'Aosta (Aosta Valley). Scientists monitoring the Planpincieux glacier on the Grandes Jorasses peak, part of the Mont Blanc massif, warned on Wednesday that up to 250,000 cubic metres of ice has split from the main glacier and is moving down the mountain at up to 60cm a day, according to La Repubblica.
After Europe weathered unusually high temperatures in August and September, researchers from Fondazione Montagna Sicura (Safe Mountains Foundation) noticed a huge fissure in the Planpincieux glacier, which eventually broke away. Initially the ice had been moving down the mountain at 50cm a day but the alarm was raised on Wednesday when records showed its movements had accelerated to 60cm. The New York Times reports that the risk for a collapse is "high" but researchers aren't able to offer an exact date on when it will happen, just that it could happen at any time.
The glacier looms over chalets, hotels, homes and hiking trails. As a precautionary measure, Stefano Miserocchi, Courmayeur's mayor, signed an order to close the Val Ferret municipality road that runs through the valley, saying that "public safety is a priority," according to Reuters. The news agency reports that the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, alerted the UN General Assembly in New York of the risk of the glacier's collapse during a speech this week.
Scientists have confirmed that 2019 was the hottest summer in the 140-year climate record, capping off the hottest five-year period on record. These rising temperatures have led to rapid glacial melt across Europe. Last weekend, climate activists in Switzerland held a funeral on the disappearing Pizol glacier in the Glarus Alps after it was reported that the glacier had lost 90% of its volume since 2006. And in August, a bronze plaque was placed at the former site of Okjökull in Iceland, the country's first glacier lost to climate change.