Climate Change in the Alps

Global warming will impact mountain areas in a particularly severe way, posing a very serious threat to Alpine nature.
Over the last century, global warming has caused all Alpine glaciers to recede. In 2006, the volume of water stored as ice was still almost 10% greater than that present as liquid, but the margin is continuing to narrow. 

Glacier recession has led to an upward migration of Alpine plants at a rate of 0.5 - 4 m per decade. In the long run, lowland plants will displace Alpine species to ever-higher altitudes until they simply have nowhere to go at all, effectively forcing them into extinction.

The expansion of exotic species from parks and gardens is another potential threat posed by climate change and can already be observed in the Southern Alps where evergreen trees (even palm trees!) are invading the natural forests.

The species composition of plant communities could change with consequences as yet unknown for the whole food chain.

The invasion of southern pathogens, bringing diseases against which the flora and fauna of the Alps have no defence, could also be a consequence of global warming.

Global warming will also bring about changes in rain and snowfall patterns and an increase in the frequency of extreme meteorological events, such as floods and avalanches.

Higher temperatures will degrade the permafrost layers, causing slope instability and rock falls and landslides.

What We Do

The European Alpine Programme coordinates WWF's conservation work across the Alps. Check out Our Solutions page to read more about what WWF is doing to conserve Alpine nature.

Glacial Retreat

Pasterze Glacier lies in the Hohe Tauern mountain range of the Austrian Alps. / ©: Michèle DÉPRAZ / WWF-Canon
The Pasterze Glacier lies in the Hohe Tauern mountain range of the Alps, along the northeastern slope of Austria's tallest mountain, Grossglockner, and flows into the Moell River. The 9 km-long Pasterze is currently losing 5 m in height and 20 m in length every year. The retreat of Pasterze is monitored by satellite and is used in many models to estimate the loss of mountain glaciers around the world.
  •  / ©: WWF European Alpine Programme
    The Alps have warmed by 1.5 degrees celcius in the last century.

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