Rapidly melting glacier in Italian Alps at risk of collapse

Rapidly melting glacier in Italy may collapse

Officials in northern Italy have ordered emergency measures after parts of a massive glacier near the famed Mont Blanc were at risk of collapsing, threatening residents of the remote region. Several mountain homes have been declared off-limits because they could be in the path of falling ice.

Geologist Daniele Giordan of the Italian National Research Council (CNR), one of the government researchers who sounded the alarm, said the left side of the Planpincieux glacier is the most concerning. The chunk of ice they're worried could fall is about as big as two football fields and nearly eight stories high.

Although ice falling is not unusual, Giordan said, it's uncommon that it's occurring so close to people. He said this would become more common as the climate continues to change.

At the Safe Mountain Foundation, a team of Italian government scientists are poring over data from a ground-based radar that's monitoring the glacier's movement.
 
Jean-Pierre Fosson, the foundation's director, explained how rapid melting caused by warmer temperatures is making the glacier slide. In glacier-speak, it's speeding: The glacier is moving at a rate of 24 inches per day.
 
"It's a lot," Fosson said. "For a glacier, it's a lot."  
 
Fosson is in charge of mountain safety in the area that includes the picturesque tourist destination of Courmayeur. Courmayeur's visitors aren't in danger – but they're watching closely.

Part of the problem, Fosson said, is that there's no way to know when parts of the glacier might collapse.

"You have to call God," he said. "Because you cannot say."

But he said the culprit is clear: climate change. "The great problem for the glacier is not the one day of high temperatures – instead, it's the continuous high temperatures night and day," he said.
 
On Mont Blanc, at an elevation of more than 11,000 feet, "CBS This Morning" got a closer look at the glaciers. There are about 30 glaciers on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, all of which are melting – and in the last 50 years, Italian glaciers have lost about 40% of their mass. Melting glaciers have led activists to stage funerals all across the Alps for the disappearing ice sheets.