A landslide hit the village of Bondo last week in Switzerland, close to the Italian border. Eight persons are missing, rescue teams gave up hope to find the hikers alive. Approximately 4 million cubic meters of rocks and mud came down the slope of the Piz Cengalo, and it was not the first (nor the last) devastating landslide in this area. The Swiss government states that climate overheating is the cause.

The region is coping with more rock falls, and is one of the 100+ potential risk areas across the Swiss Alps. Currently, 20-30% of the areas pose a direct threat to human infrastructure. While global temperatures have risen 0.9 degrees in the process of climate overheating, Switzerland is coping with more than double: since 1864 an average increase of 2.0 degrees is recorded.

Chain reaction with rising temperatures

Unusually high temperatures in Switzerland lead to high rates of melting glaciers. Scientists showed early this year, that the melting Aletsch glacier caused the adjoining slope to move rapidly. And Switzerland is not the only country with this phenomenon. Austria’s biggest glacier, the Pasterze, is rapidly disappearing, which will lead to more landslides in the National Park Hohe Tauern. The rising temperatures thus cause melting glaciers, and result in unstable mountain slopes. With extreme weather situations and heavy rainfall, dangerous landslides are occurring more often.

Switzerland takes action

The Swiss government released a statement, that the country must adapt to climate overheating. Besides melting glaciers, periods of drought and heat waves, and melting permafrost are recognised as a threat with environmental, economic and social consequences. The document states that people must see rising temperatures as a challenge to society as a whole. Since 2013, the government supports 31 different projects that tackle the challenges in adapting to the rising temperatures. Now, the federal environment office also starts a study on the risks in eight cantons.

While Switzerland studies the risks, Austria is already working for years on minimising the risks of damage. It builds large concrete structures in various valleys, funded by a seemingly unlimited budget, to stop landslides. Apparently the best human solution is thus to build concrete structures to mitigate the landslides, but not prevent them! What about increasing ground stability by letting the mountain pine (Pinus mugo) return? What if alpine pastures and meadows are less used and enable the shrubs to return and solidify the grassy mountain slopes?

While Switzerland might should have taken action earlier, they are right about their statement addressing everyone of us:

“The effects of climate change affect us all, we can only face these new challenges together.” – Swiss government

 

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