The state of the glaciers

With only very few exceptions, glaciers around the world are receding, a phase which began at the beginning of the last century and briefly interrupted by a small advance of the alpine area around the 1980s. This puts at risk not only the existence of glaciers, but also an important renewable energy resource. Also the resulting ice and water therefore seem to be transformed into a source that is running out and is no longer renewed, as is the case with fossil fuels. In fact, the mass of most Italian glaciers is negative: summer melts more ice than is formed during the cold season and the mass of the glaciers decreases.
Unlike fossil fuels, whose exploitation depends on man and can be to some extent planned and programmed, possibly setting aside “strategic” reserves, the water produced by melting glaciers can only be used when it is available. This energy source depends on the weather conditions and, over the years, on climatic fluctuations, also influenced by human activity. For example, the torrid summer of 2003, hotter and dryer than average, facilitated the release of large quantities of melting water that was not fully exploited for energy production. Indeed, an artificial basin is constructed to contain only a limited amount of water and the technical characteristics of the plants are designed to produce that particular maximum amount of energy, even in the presence of an excess of the available resource.
Water resources from glaciers are therefore difficult to manage: the only certainty they offer is their availability during the summer months. For how many years will it still be possible to exploit this resource?
The state of the glaciers in Italy
The intense reduction of the area of glaciers in the Italian mountains, which has been accelerating in recent decades, is reflected in all the other sectors of the Alps and in other mountain ranges on the Earth and is certainly one of the clearest and most obvious signs in nature of the climate changes in progress and in particular of the increase in average air temperature. In addition to being the most reliable climatic indicators, glaciers represent an important water, energy, landscape and tourist resource.
According to the New Land registry of Italian Glaciers in Italy (published in 2015), there are 903 glacial bodies in Italy, covering a total area of 370 km², equal to that of Lake Garda, present in 6 Italian regions, of which only one, Abruzzo, is not alpine. Making a comparison with the previous national glacier land registry, which was completed at the end of the 1950s by the Italian Glaciological Committee in collaboration with the National Research Council, it can be seen that the number of glaciers has increased from 835 to 903. What may appear to be a contradiction is actually not because the numerical increase is to attributed to the intense fragmentation of existing glacial units. The glacial surface area has indeed recorded a loss of 30% (157 km²), comparable to the area of Lake Como, from 527 km² to the current 370 km² (approx. 3 km² lost per year). There are therefore numerous Italian glaciers, albeit fragmented and of small dimensions (an average area of 0.4 km² can be estimated) with the exception of three glaciers with a surface area of over 10 km²: the Forni, in Lombardy (National Park of Stelvio), the Miage, Valle d’Aosta (Mont Blanc Group), and the Adamello-Mandrone complex, in Lombardy and Trentino (Adamello Park); the latter can be defined as the largest glacier in Italy, having been classified as a large unitary glacial unit due to its unusual shape, similar to that of the large Scandinavian glaciers, characterised by a plateau with many tongues.

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