Vegetation above the tree line has increased in nearly 80% of the Alps.
Researchers from the University of Lausanne and the University of Basel have used satellite data to explore the affects of climate change on the mountainous region.
Melting glaciers and a reduction in snow cover combined with evidence of extensive ‘greening’ has been investigated using high-resolution satellite data from 1984 to 2021.
Sabine Rumpf, lead author of the study and, since February, assistant professor at the University of Basel, explained:
“The scale of the change has turned out to be absolutely massive in the Alps.
“Alpine plants are adapted to harsh conditions, but they’re not very competitive. The unique biodiversity of the Alps is therefore under considerable pressure.”
The Alps are becoming greener because plants are colonizing new areas and the vegetation is generally becoming denser and taller.
Fellow researcher Antoine Guisan, commenting on the studies findings about snow cover in the Alps said:
“For years, local ground-based measurements have shown a decrease in snow depth at low elevations. This decrease has already caused some areas to become largely snow-free.”
Based on the satellite data, it’s possible to distinguish whether a specific area is covered with snow or not, but doesn’t allow to draw conclusions about snow depth.
Sabine Rumpf added:
“Greener mountains reflect less sunlight and therefore lead to further warming – and, in turn, to further shrinkage of reflective snow cover.”
Warming also causes further melting of glaciers and the thawing of permafrost, which may lead to more landslides, rockfalls and mudflows. Furthermore, Rumpf emphasizes the important role of snow and ice from the Alps in the supply of drinking water and, not least, for recreation and tourism.
Click on this link to access the article: From white to green: Snow cover loss and increased vegetation productivity in the European Alps