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The glacial agony of the Pyrenees

The glacial agony of the Pyrenees

By Daniel Raventós

The speed of disappearance of the glacial mass of the Pyrenean massif due to the warming of our planet is alarming. In other words, in just over a century, 85% of the area covered by glaciers in the Pyrenees has been lost.


Who else who has read the least about the mass loss of the photogenic glacier in the southern hemisphere Perito Moreno, or other giants of Alaska and even Greenland. And the North Pole, of course. Even from the Bolivian Chacaltaya glacier, as on June 17, 2007 he published Sin Permiso. On the other hand, it is not so frequent to read about the Pyrenean glacial losses of Posets, Comaloformo, Monte Perdido, Pica d'Estats or Balaitús. But the speed of disappearance of the glacial mass of these Pyrenean massifs, due to the warming of our planet, is equal or greater.

The Pyrenees are made up of a good number of valleys, even more lakes, a multitude of streams, hundreds of peaks of more than 2,000 meters and a few dozen of more than 3,000 that are grouped into 11 massifs with their corresponding culminating points. From the West to the East, these 11 highlights are: Balaitús, Gran Vignemale, Monte Perdido, La Munia, Pic Long, Gran Bachimala, Posets, Perdiguero, Aneto, Comaloformo and Pica d'Estats. The Aneto, with 3,404, is the largest and the Comaloformo, with 3,033, the smallest. Most of the 3,000 are in Aragon, another good portion is located in France and, finally, a few are in Catalonia. According to the international mountaineering authority, the International Union of Mountaineering Associations (UIAA), between the elevations of more than 3,000 meters in the Pyrenees a distinction must be made between the main peaks (which would be those formed by a cusp with at least three edges) and the secondary ones (formed by needles or tips that would not enjoy the previous conditions). According to the UIAA, there are 129 peaks in the Pyrenees that meet the requirements to be classified as main, 83 that are secondary, and 117 that are not only considered peaks but rather simple lumps next to high elevations. All of the 3,000 major and many of the minor ones are fascinating vertical rock formations that not many people have been able to see up close.

The 11 3,000 peaks of their respective massifs have been accompanied until very recently by glaciers or, as it was more popularly known, by "perpetual snow." Snow that lasted all year, even in the hottest months. For this reason these snows received (the verb tense in the past is increasingly appropriate) the name of perpetual. A Pyrenean glacier is still a legacy of the so-called "little ice age" that ended at the end of the 19th century. With data from 1894, there were 1,779 hectares covered by glaciers in the vicinity of these Pyrenean massifs. Data from 2001 reduce the number of hectares to 290. And in just 20 years (from 1982 to 2001) it has gone from 608 hectares to the aforementioned 290, that is, more than 50% of the glacial surface has been lost. In 1980 there were 27 glaciers in this mountain range, in 2000 only 10. It had been only 20 years. In the Alps, the situation is somewhat different because although the glacial surface of the whole of the great European mountain range has decreased between 30 and 40% in the last 50 years, there has been some glacier that has increased in volume (the Grosse Aletsch in Switzerland, for example).

A study by Greenpeace (http://www.greenpeace.org/espana_es/) concludes that "The glaciological and cryological indicators of the high Pyrenean mountains lead us to think that, if current and recent conditions continue (two to ten decades) , or if the maximum or minimum predictions of the IPCC [the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for its acronym in English] are fulfilled, the current glaciers will tend to a drastic reduction or to disappear towards the middle of the XXI century, between 2050 and 2060. " The isotherm of -2 degrees Celsius would then be at 2,900 meters, if the most favorable calculations are fulfilled, or at 3,100 if the most unfavorable calculations are correct. Under these conditions, permafrost - this barbarism is more common than the properly Castilian words "permagel" or "pergelisol" -, a term by which the existence of permanently frozen soils is called, which is a concept that covers more spaces than a glacier , it would almost completely disappear. We are talking about just over 40 years.


More specifically, the glacial equilibrium zone is the line or zone of altitude that separates the accumulation and ablation zones of a glacier. In other words, it is the altitude line that marks the place where ice mass is gained or lost. The lower this altitude line is situated, other things being equal, the more ice there will be; the higher, the less. The glacial balance line varies with the cardinal orientation. In the northern hemisphere, north-facing faces accumulate more snow and ice than south-facing faces, because the latter have far fewer hours of sunshine per year. Well, the glacial equilibrium line is rising rapidly, in all cardinal points. The Greenpeace study indicates very specifically that the second Pyrenean giant, Posets (3,375 meters), will have the glacial equilibrium zone located above 3,100 meters between the years 2046 and 2053. More crudely stated: it would disappear, if these data were correct, the entire glacier of the second peak of the Pyrenees. There would only be three Pyrenean massifs that would conserve some small mass of ice, since their glacial equilibrium zones would still be above 3,100 meters.

On August 24, 2005, a dozen very young Greenpeace activists between the ages of 13 and 16 wrote in big letters about the Aneto glacier: "No more CO2." They had come to see first-hand the impacts of climate change on the glacier at the highest peak of the Pyrenees. And they verified it: currently this glacier covers an area of ​​90 hectares, less than 20 years ago it was more than double. The reductions of these glacial masses in the Pyrenees are perfectly observable throughout a human lifetime. Two examples. In some Pyrenean high mountain guide published less than 10 years ago (to cite one famous and very useful: the three volumes of 3,000 of the Pyrenees, by Luis Alejos, Ed. SUA, 1999) it can be read that the classic route or Normal (this term is called the easiest way to access a peak) to attack Pic Long is through the Pays Baché glacier. The rapid descent of this glacier (now, in fact, little more than a snowfield) has turned the normal route of just 10 or 12 years ago into a much more complicated route. More specifically, the disappearance of the glacier at its highest point has exposed ridges of rock polished by millions of years of erosion under the layers of the once imposing Pays Baché glacier, which must be climbed with caution and is, of course, not for beginners. Now it is even easier (or less difficult) to ascend the Pic Long by other routes that not so long ago were considered more rare and complicated. Second example. In the imposing nights spent in high mountain shelters, I have witnessed almost identical conversations in which a mountaineer in his fifties explains to another considerably younger the amounts of snow, much higher than the glacier of Monte Perdido. , or the Gran Vignemale, or the Posets… they were 15, 20 or 25 years ago. This conversation, more and more repeated in high mountain environments, is corroborated, not only by conclusive observations such as those cited above, but also by the abundant graphic material available. There is a good collection of photographs of the Monte Perdido and Aneto glaciers, among others, that allow us to compare their state from a few decades ago with what it now offers. The differences are huge. This is what the twelve adolescents verified in August 2005.

* Daniel Raventós, member of the Drafting Committee of SINPERMISO, he is a veteran Pyrenees. He is also a professor of social theory at the Faculty of Economic Sciences of the University of Barcelona, ​​and his latest book is The material conditions of freedom (El Viejo Topo, 2007). http://www.sinpermiso.info/



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