Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Soot explains early Alpine glacial retreat

  • Written by  Olivia Edward
  • Published in Mountains
Soot explains early Alpine glacial retreat Shutterstock
01 Oct
2013
Soot, or black carbon, released into the air as Europe rapidly industrialised, was probably responsible for the abrupt retreat of mountain glaciers in the Alps, according to a new study

Scientists have long debated why glaciers in the central European Alps began retreating during the 1860s, decades before global temperatures began their most recent rise. In the present study, a US-led research team analysed the black carbon content of ice cores drilled from high up several European mountain glaciers. Using modern observations of the distribution of pollutants in the Alps, they were then able to estimate how much black carbon was deposited on glacial surfaces at lower elevations, where levels of black carbon tend to be highest.

From the 1850s, rapid industrialisation saw increasing combustion of coal, which caused the release of black carbon into the atmosphere. As this soot settled onto the snow, it darkened the surface, increasing the rate of snow melt and exposing the underlying glacier ice to sunlight and relatively warm air earlier in the year.

Starting with recorded weather conditions, the team ran computer models of glacier behaviour. When they added the impact of the lower-elevation black carbon they had extrapolated from the ice cores, they found that the model results for both the timing and mass loss from the glaciers were consistent with the historical record of glacial retreat.

‘We must now look closer at other regions on Earth, such as the Himalaya, to study the present-day impacts of black carbon on glaciers,’ said one of the study’s co-authors Georg Kaser of the University of Innsbruck.

This story was published in the October 2013 edition of Geographical Magazine

Related items

Julysub 2020

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Cities

Scientists are using sophisticated data modelling to predict how cities…

Places

The most populated country of Central Asia, Uzbekistan has been…

Forests

To protect the forests that act as natural carbon reservoirs,…

Forests

Recent research finds that climate change-induced drought is having a…

Cities

The city of Calais struggles with its reputation. More often…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig and Tina Gotthardt map the coronavirus

Water

The controversial practice of cloud-seeding has always been difficult to…

Forests

The impact of wildfires on water supplies has received little…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig maps the two sides of global malnutrition –…

Cities

Thomas Bird reports on the coronavirus, speaking to those trapped…

Forests

The world’s second largest tropical forest receives significantly less funding…

Cities

The world’s first water-borne dairy farm has been erected on…

Cities

Continental Europe’s most extensive underground rail transport network, the Madrid…

Cities

A central highway in Brazil’s largest city is about to…

Cities

Urban photography marries themes and passages from TS Eliot in…

Mapping

From Leonardo da Vinci’s genius and the history of Starbucks,…

Mapping

How do you usually travel to work? Question 41 in…

Water

The Nile is home to mysteries both ancient and modern…

Places

While researching his main article on the world’s smallest countries,…

Places

Vitali Vitaliev briefly meets the down-to-earth ruler of Liectenstein