More rockfalls in Alps
- Friday 25th August 2023
More rockfalls have occurred in the Alps as a result of the high temperatures and melting permafrost’s.
Last summer much of Central and Southern Europe was gripped by heatwaves causing numerous extensive rockfalls as well as glacier collapses.
Sadly, the return of high temperatures over the current summer has once again seen some spectacular rockfalls across the Alps. In the last few days, two major rockfalls have occurred on both the Mount Pelvoux in the Ecrins and the Aiguille du Midi in the Mont Blanc Massif.
The huge rockfall on Mount Pelvoux on August 21st occurred in the Pelas Verney couloir, an iconic and deep north facing valley. This caused debris to fall onto a popular trail that leads to the Pelvoux hut. An online video captured from the Pelvoux hut, shows just how big the rockfall was. Several similar rockfalls have also affected other trails in the area leading to the closure of trails.
The Aiguille du Midi rockfall on August 23rd occurred on the north face of the mountain overlooking Chamonix. The rockfall occured adjacent to two iconic alpine climbs, the Frendo Spur and the Mallory Route. The damage to these routes isn’t known at the current time however.
Climber published a major article on the subject last year which including a deep dive into the worst collapses as well as the scientific communities thoughts on the causes.
Historic records show that the Alps have warmed twice as much as the global average between the late nineteenth and the early twenty-first century so whilst the temperature rise globally has been 1oC, the Alps have seen a 2oC increase. Glacial loss and rockfalls are now well-established consequences to the increases in temperatures.
The Mer de Glace is one of the most iconic of glaciers in the Alps. Between May 22nd and July 2nd last year the glacier lost 3.5m of depth; staggeringly, almost 10cms a day! Given that the total loss last year was likely to have been c.10m that was 10x the calculated loss of 1m per annum between 1979 and 1994.
The situation last summer was so dire that Ludovic Ravanel, a leading expert and renowned geomorphologist, IFMGA Guide and instructor at the Ecole Nationale de Ski et Alpinisme (the French national centre for mountaineering in Chamonix) convened a workshop for IMFGA Guides. The picture Ravanel painted was shocking; the confirmed statistical link between permafrost and rockfalls was conclusive. Melting permafrost is known to be causing instability on northern aspects above 2,300-2,500m and on southern aspects above 3,300-3,500m. The rockfalls reported above are occurring as a result of melting permafrost.