Jungfraujoch’s foreboding temperatures this September at the top of the world in Switzerland at 2.25 miles altitude alarmed glaciologists.
If anybody has lingering doubts about global warming’s strength of power to directly impact Earth’s ecosystems, think again. Antarctica, at the bottom of the world, experienced record high temperatures during its winter, as record high temperatures were also recorded at the top of the world in the Swiss Alps, where it’s always icy cold. As it happened, both the top and the bottom of the world hit record high temperatures, simultaneously, give or take a few days. There’s no known record of this ever happening before.
Jungfraujoch is the tallest SwissMetNet station in Switzerland at 11,715 feet. Temperatures above 0° Celsius (32°F) for eight straight days in the month of September shocked glaciologists. That had never happened before in its 90-year history of official recordings.
The Jungfraujoch environment, according to its web page: “Icy air sweeps your face, snow crunches underfoot, and the panorama almost takes your breath away: on one side the view of the Swiss Mittelland towards the Vosges, on the other the Aletsch Glacier, lined with four thousand metre peaks. Standing on the Jungfraujoch 3,454 metres above sea level, you can feel it with your first step: this is a different world.”
Glaciologists say this new zero-degree record at extreme altitude is an ominous sign. Of serious concern, Switzerland has ~1,500 ice giants that don’t fancy a lot of heat. Those ice giants have faithfully served as the world’s most trustworthy water towers ever since humans first huddled in caves during the Stone Age a couple million years ago. Now, those wondrous glaciers are at risk of meltdown within only one century after a couple million years of steady work.
Not only did Jungfraujoch register 8-straight days over zero, but at the higher altitude of 5,298 metres Swiss MeteoSwiss reported record temperatures over the zero-degree limit.
Swiss glaciers have lost one-third of ice volume in only 20 years. The next twenty could be crucial. According to Daniel Farinotti, glaciologist at ETH Zurich: “With a zero-degree isotherm far above 5,000 metres, all glaciers in the Alps are exposed to melt — up to their highest altitudes. Such events are rare and detrimental to the glacier’s health… if such conditions persist in the longer-term, glaciers are set to be lost irreversibly,” Ibid.
“Since the pre-industrial era, the temperature in Switzerland has increased by almost 2° Celsius, well above the global average. At this rate, half of the 1,500 Alpine glaciers – including the majestic Aletsch glacier, a UNESCO heritage site — will disappear in the next 30 years. And if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all glaciers in Switzerland and Europe risk melting almost completely by the end of the century.” (Source: Why Melting Glaciers Affect Us All, Swissinfo.ch, October 11, 2022)
All of which is a good primer on what to expect if the world average hits 1.5°C and then 2°C, both of which look doable based upon the rapidity of greenhouse gas emissions, for example, CO2 and methane both setting new world records in July 2023.
And it’s also instructive to note, the world is not uniform, e.g., according to Copernicus Climate Change Service: Extreme Heat, Widespread Drought Typify European Climate in 2022, April 20, 2023: “The C35 data show that the average temperature for Europe for the latest 5-year period was around 2.2°C above the pre-industrial era (1850-1900). In 2022 all hell broke out through0ut the EU with water deliveries by truck to 100 thirsty communities in France/Italy and major riverway barges sputtering in mud. It was an “end of the world” type of experience that they muddled through. Of special concern, 75% of Spain’s land risks desertification because of global warming’s severe drought.
Glaciers worldwide are being hit, getting thinner and thinner in the Himalayas and the Andes where hundreds of millions of people depend upon glaciers for hydro power, irrigation, and drinking water. The situation in Europe is horribly problematic as the water flow of major commercial rivers like the Rhône, Rhine, Danube, and Po decrease, especially in summer months because of severe drought that hammered the EU. This has already, at times, seriously impaired commercial barge traffic in Europe, and lo and behold, nuclear power plants are targets of global warming. France’s 56 nuclear reactors were impacted within the past two years. Marine life as well as nuclear reactors depend upon a constant flow of cold water for existence. However, when global warming makes life in an ecosystem nearly impossible, marine life moves, reactors cannot.
A new report on Himalayan glacier loss shows a melt rate 65% faster from 2010 t0 2020 than in the prior decade, 2000-10. That’s big-time acceleration for enormous chunks of ice. That finding adds to “a growing body of evidence that the consequences of climate change are speeding up, and that some changes will be irreversible.” (Source: Snow and Ice in the Hindu Kush Himalaya Are Fast Disappearing, with Grave Implications for People and Nature, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, icimod.org, 2023)
The Hindu Kush Himalaya provides freshwater for 2 billion people. At current melt rates, almost all of the glacial volume will be gone this century.
Researchers say the mountain glacier systems will reach a point by 2050 when the glaciers have shrunk so much that the meltwater starts dwindling. It’s called a turning point “peak water.”
Meanwhile, melting glaciers spur natural disasters of epic proportions, cascading disasters of flooding and huge landslides like sudden shocks to the system, like earthquake events. Furthermore, there is already evidence of loss of biodiversity habitat, especially butterflies have gone extinct in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. Frogs and other amphibians are on the short list to go next. Scientists expect a quarter of plants and animals to be “wiped out” over the coming decades with the Indian segment of the Himalayan mountains hit extremely hard. (Source: Sunita Chaudhary, ecosystems researcher, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development).
As previously mentioned, Antarctica has joined the “it’s never happened before” party. The ice continent, as large as the U.S. and Mexico combined, is the coldest continent on Earth with a mean annual interior temperature of -71F. However, in the dead of winter, the Antarctic Peninsula, an 800-mile extension of the Antarctic continent, temperatures hit 32°F (Source: It’s Even Hot in Antarctica, Where it’s Winter, Vox, July 13, 2023). Which happened shortly before zero C at Jungfraujoch, as the top of the world and the bottom of the world coincided in extreme once-in-a-lifetime events, which researchers believe may become a trend, thereby losing the once-in-a-lifetime status, with the ramifications best not discussed herein. They’re too extensive and exhausting!
By now, it has become obvious that Earth’s climate system is askew, out of balance, and rapidly changing the face of the planet. Some knowledgeable people believe the best course of action is to learn to adapt to this rapidly changing environment because it does not appear that fossil fuel emissions are going anywhere but up, up, up, like they have for decades, higher every year, but for various legit reasons, do not count on CO2 capture/sequestration (CCS) or direct air capture (DAC) to bail us out of a worldwide heat jam, in part, because the scale is way beyond humongous, meaning the problem is as big as the planet is large, and that’s really, really big. Meanwhile, emissions continue to feed into more destructive global warming events, testing the mettle of humans, as fossil fuel emissions (the heart and soul of global warming) increasingly choke a planet that’s already sputtering.
All of which is supposed to be discussed amongst the nations of the world at the upcoming COP28 (UN Climate Change Conference) to be held in Dubai, November 30 – December 12, 2023, but there are serious reservations about the venue and the host and the participants as expressed in a letter sent by Freedom Forward and signed by 200 organizations: 200+ Organizations Call on Governments to Address UAE Human Rights Abuses Ahead of COP28 Climate Negotiations with the subtitle: Letter to COP28 participating Governments Regarding United Arab Emirates (UAE) Human Rights Violations and Climate Concerns, September 13, 2023.
The opening paragraph: “We write as a global network of organizations with grave human rights concerns regarding the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) host of the 2023 Cop28 to be held by the rulers of a repressive petrostate, and overseen by an oil executive, is reckless, represents a blatant conflict of interest, and threatens the legitimacy of the whole process.”
Meanwhile, the history of UN meetings to fix the planet is not encouraging: For example, in 2015, 193 countries agreed to UN Sustainable Development Goals, aka: Global Goals. As of August 2023, after 8 years of dalliance, not one of the goals looks set to be achieved. (Nature, 9/12/2023).
As a result of the failure of sustainable development goals and for that matter, any and all such goals, a new research report indicates that Earth’s life support systems have been so damaged that the planet is “well outside the safe operating space for humanity.” To come back to a safe space, two key actions are required: (1) stop fossil fuel burning (2) end destructive farming. (Source: Earth Beyond Six of Nine Planetary Boundaries, Science Advances, Sept. 13, 2023)
Alas, like the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Paris ’15 climate goals to achieve net zero have mostly bombed.
COP28/Dubai is weeks away. They expect a record turnout of up to 80,000 participants, claiming: “COP28 is poised to shape the course of international climate action.” Hmm.
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at [email protected].