MILAN – Over 40 glaciologists of the most important European universities and International institutions gathered on 7-8 May in Milan to take stock of the state of health of Italian and world glaciers and to analyse developments and future implications of melting. At the meeting, organized by Milan University in collaboration with Levissima, another speaker was Luca Mercalli, a familiar TV face and president of the Italian Meteorological Society. We asked him what future climate change holds in store for us.
“Like so many other environmental processes, the results of climate change only appears later. At first, we do not perceive any particularly relevant symptoms, but within decades and centuries the effects become irreversible and we are no longer able to manage them. That is why we need science to explain what is happening and what we can still do in terms of prevention.
Glaciers are a good early indicator to understand what is happening to the climate. They are located in particularly sensitive areas – high mountains or polar regions – and, through melting and retreat, they are a sort of natural thermometer. Unfortunately, in recent decades, glaciers around the world are retreating and their silent voice warns us that something dramatic is happening. Melting rates are in fact very high compared to everything we know about past climate.
It is important not to ignore this warning. We must act now to reduce greenhouse gases because otherwise, in a few decades, our glaciers will have completely disappeared from our mountains, their water will no longer be available to us, they will no longer be a tourist attraction but above all, it will be too late to moderate the pernicious effects of climate change on humanity as a whole.
According to estimates of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, unless we do something, by the end of the century we risk a temperature increase of around 5 degrees compared to the historical pre-industrial period. An increase of this kind is able to wipe out the entire ice cover of the Alps, except for the odd ice cap on the highest mountains such as Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa. The consequences would be devastating for the Po valley, in terms of the availability of water in the river Po and in terms of agricultural activities, which are among the most prosperous and productive in Europe.
Naturally, this is a local indicator. The Alps are small on a global scale. The fact is that all this is also happening in Alaska, on the Rocky Mountains, in the Himalayas and even more so in the polar regions which are those that could cause sea levels to rise considerably. This tells us that the health of far-off glaciers can also affect the quality of life of all the Earth’s inhabitants”.