Stretching over 23 kilometres, the Aletsch Glacier in canton Valais is the longest in Europe, measuring 1.5 kilometres wide on average and 900 metres at its thickest point.
From its source in the Jungfrau mountain region at over 4,000 metres, the glacier flows down the valley at speeds of up to 200m a year. But in recent times it has also been beating a major retreat.
“Over the past 40 years, the end of the glacier has shrunk by 1,300 metres,” explains Laudo Albrecht, director of Pro Natura’s Aletsch Centre, located near Riederalp in the heart of the Aletsch region. “But it’s not just shorter; it’s also 200m thinner.”
And things may get much worse over the coming decades. If it continues to melt at this current rate, by the end of this century the surface of the Aletsch Glacier could shrivel from 118 square kilometres (2010) to 35km2, leaving a volume of ice of 1.7 cubic kilometres or less than 10% its current volume, warns the Federal Office for the Environment (BAFU).
As the glacier retreats, small landslides have been observed in the valley where two geological plates meet. The moving landscape has been a challenge for developers. The Moosfluh cable car, which opened in December 2015, was built with an innovative design that takes into account rock movements of 11 metres horizontal to the northwest and nine metres vertical in the next 25 years.