Climate change impacts in Switzerland

Climate change impacts in Switzerland - what the IPCC 4th Assessment Report has found:
  • The duration of snow cover is expected to decrease by several weeks for each degree C of temperature increase in the Alps region at middle elevations. An upward shift of the glacier equilibrium line is expected from 60 to 140 m/ degree C. Small glaciers will disappear, while larger glaciers will suffer a volume reduction between 30% and 70% by 2050 [12.4.3].
  • Observed effects due to changes in the cryosphere produced by warming include a 50% (15%) decrease in snow depth at an elevation of 440 m (2220 m) in the Swiss Alps (1975-1999) [1.3.1.1].
  • Increased rockfall after the 2003 summer heat wave. Active layer deepening from 30% to 100% of the depth measured before the heat wave June-August 2003 Swiss Alps [1.3.1.2]
  • Alps Formation of large lakes is occurring as glaciers retreat. These lakes have a high potential for Glacier Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) [1.3.1.1].
  • In the Rhone River, there have been significant changes in species composition, as southern, thermophilic fish and invertebrate species have progressively replaced cold-water species [1.3.4.5] Changes in length of growing season, based on observations:
    • 9 spring and 6 autumn phases have shown an established significant trend of lengthening 2.7 days per decade between 1951-1998 [1.3.5.1].
  • Evidence of significant recent range shifts to higher elevation:
    • A climate warming-induced upward migration of alpine plants in the high Alps was observed to have accelerated towards the beginning of the 21st century [1.3.5.2].
    • Alpine summit vegetation elevational shift, increased species richness on mountain tops (due to increased temperature) [1.3.5.2].
  • Climate-linked invasion of exotic thermophilous plants spreading into the native flora [1.3.5.3].
  • Invasion of evergreen broad-leaved species in Alp forests and upward shift of Viscum album (Mistletoe) [Table 12.1].
  • The Alps could be one of the regions most affected by increase in year-to-year variability in summer climates and thus a higher incidence of heat waves and droughts [12.3.1.2.].
  • A 2 degrees C warming with no precipitation change would reduce the seasonal snow cover at a Swiss Alpine site by 50 days per year, and with a 50% increase in precipitation by 30 days [12.4.9].
 / ©: WWF International
Chamonix & Mont Blanc, Switzerland
© WWF International

WWF work

What WWF is doing on the ground in Switzerland to protect against climate change:

Key contacts

  • Patrick Hofstetter

    WWF Switzerland,
    Zurich main

    +41 44 297 22 77

Climate Witnesses

WWF runs the Climate Witness programme to collect people's local observations of climate change that are then verified by scientists.
Marco Bomio has been a mountain guide for almost 30 years and lives in Grindelwald, Switzerland. In that time, he has seen glaciers retreat, increased rock falls due to lack of frozen ground and warmer temperatures. This is already having an impact on the glacial mountain hiking tourism industry where he lives. He sees that people will have to look for new sources of income.
Adrian Brunner, 30-year-old bicyclist and snowboarder from Switzerland, describes the impacts of climate change on the nature that surrounds him and on the tourism business in the Swiss Alps.

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