Swiss to hold high-altitude wake for lost glacier

Photo: AFP

Dozens of people will undertake a "funeral march" up a steep Swiss mountainside today (Sunday) to mark the disappearance of an Alpine glacier amid growing global alarm over climate change.

The Pizol "has lost so much substance that from a scientific perspective it is no longer a glacier," Alessandra Degiacomi, from the Swiss Association for Climate Protection.

The organisation which helped organise Sunday's march said around 100 people were due to take part in the event, set to take place as the UN gathers youth activists and world leaders in New York to mull the action needed to curb global warming.

Dressed in black, they will make the solemn two-hour "funeral march" up the side of Pizol mountain in northeastern Switzerland to the foot of the steep and rapidly melting ice formation, situated at an altitude of around 2,700 metres (8,850 feet) near the Liechtenstein and Austrian borders.

Once they arrive, a chaplain and several scientists will give sombre speeches in remembrance of the glacier, accompanied by the mournful tones of alphorns - a 3.6-metre (12-foot), pipe-shaped wooden instrument.

A wreath will be laid for the Pizol glacier, which has been one of the most studied glaciers in the Alps.

The move comes after Iceland made global headlines last month with a large ceremony and the laying of a bronze plaque to commemorate Okjokull, the island's first glacier lost to climate change.

500 glaciers gone

But unlike Iceland, Sunday's ceremony does not mark the first disappearance of a glacier from the Swiss Alps.

"Since 1850, we estimate that more than 500 Swiss glaciers have completely disappeared, including 50 that were named," Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at the ETH technical university in Zurich, told AFP.

Pizol may not be the first glacier to vanish in Switzerland, but "you could say it is the first to disappear that has been very thoroughly studied," said Huss, who will participate in Sunday's ceremony.

The logs kept since scientists began tracking the glacier in 1893 paint a bleak picture of recent rapid changes to the climate.

Pizol has lost 80-90 percent of its volume just since 2006, leaving behind a mere 26,000 square metres (280,000 square feet) of ice, or "less than four football fields," Huss said.

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