Alps, never so little snow in the last 600 years

Alps without snow: the results of the study conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Padua and the Isac-Cnr

Snow is becoming more and more ephemeral in the Alps. Despite the typical variability between one winter and the next, we have been experiencing in recent decades something that had never been experienced since before the discovery of the Americas. Practically, in the last century the duration of the snow cover has been shortened by more than a month. This is what emerges from the article Recent waning snowpack in the Alps is unprecedented in the last six centuries just published in the prestigious journal ‘Nature Climate Change’, the result of the collaboration of a team of researchers from the University of Padua and the Institute of Sciences of atmosphere and climate (Isac) of the National Research Council of Bologna coordinated by Marco Carrer of the Department of Territory and Agroforestry Systems of Padua.

“We have found that an extremely common shrub, the common juniperwhen found at high altitudes it has a creeping habit on the ground, i.e. it grows horizontally very close to the ground, and is able to record the duration of the snow cover in its growth rings – says Marco Carrer, forest ecologist at the University of Padua and first author of the study – In fact, being a few tens of centimeters tall, its growing season strongly depends on how early it manages to emerge from the white blanket that covers it”.

“For the study of climate change it is necessary to have a broad temporal perspective. Unfortunately, information regarding the snowpack has generally only been collected for a few decades – explains Michele Brunetti of the Cnr-Isac – Hence the need to look beyond the horizon provided by the instrumental data and find other sources that allow us to extend the necessary climatic information back in time”.

“By crossing the measures of the growth rings of the juniper, which can reach considerable ages (over 400 years), with a model of permanence of the snow cover developed ad hoc, we have managed to reconstruct the snow conditions over the last six centuries. This has allowed us to understand that what we have been experiencing in recent years is something that had never occurred before”, conclude the two researchers.