.By Paul Homewood

Charles Wardrop mentioned the retreating Grindelwald Glacier, a delightful spot up in the Bernese Alps.

Because of its low altitude, it has records and drawings going back hundreds of years, which give us an idea of how the glacier has changed.


The Upper & Lower Grindelwald Glaciers in 1774 by Caspar Wolf


HH Lamb’s Climate, History and The Modern World tells us much about the history of Alpine glaciers. For instance, how they advanced rapidly between 800 and 400 BC. They then retreated before advancing again between AD 600 and AD 850, when they may have even reached Little Ice Age maximum extents.

We are probably all familiar with the terrifying glacier advances, which began in the 17thC, following centuries of a much warmer climate. These were catastrophic for anybody living nearby, as farming land was wiped out, and even the land that escaped being overrun was far too cold to farm. As a result, famine was rife in Switzerland and elsewhere, even in cities which relied on the countryside for food.

People living in those days would have been dumfounded to hear that there are some now who are worried that glaciers are getting smaller.

A paper by Zumbuhl et al, published in 2006, offers a detailed history of the Lower Grindelwald glacier, as well as the Mer de Glace in the Mont Blanc region:


The summary below describes how the Grindelwald reached maximum extent in 1820, but then peaked again in 1855. It then began a very rapid retreat between 1860 and 1880. Note the chart, which shows the most rapid rate of retreat was 1860 to 1880, and then another sharp retreat from 1920 to 1980. Since then the extent has stabilised. (Remember this is data to 2003).

It is abundantly clear that current glacial retreat in the Alps is part of a much longer sequence of natural cycles.



March 28, 2021 at 01:24PM