The Effect Of Global Warming On Major Glaciers In Switzerland

The Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland.
The Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland.

Global warming has led to many adverse environmental effects in regions across the world. In Switzerland, the global warming effects are most visible in the melting of the country’s main glaciers. Switzerland is home to the Swiss Alps, which are part of the greater Alps located in Europe. The majority of the country’s glaciers lie in the Bernese and Pennine Alps. Switzerland’s Alps are renowned for their beauty and are major tourist destinations. Concerns have been raised on glacial retreat which is fueled by unusually warm weather.

Some Of The Major Alpine Glaciers In Switzerland


The Aletsch Glacier holds the title of the largest glacier in the Alps. Its current length is 23.6 km, down from 26.5 km in 1850. It has retreated by nearly 3 km, and scientists have warned that this pace is quickening. The glacier is situated in the Bernese Alps in Valais, and it has a height of 4,193 meters. The glacier has been preserved in the Jungfrau-Aletsch Protected Area.


The Gorner Glacier occupies an area of 63.7 km2 in the Pennine Alps. Since 1850, it has retreated by about 1.5 km from the original 16.0 km to the 14.5 km measured in 2010. It is one of the most extensive glacial systems, second only to Aletsch and it is also located in Valais. The glacier has a height of 4.634 meters. The Gorner Glacier is home to the Gornersee, an ice-marginal lake which after filling for a year drains in the summer. The glacier serves as the mouth of important water bodies such as river Gornera.


The Fiescher Glacier occupies an area of 39.0 km2 in the Bernese Alps. It is a valley glacier situated in Valais. In 1850, the glacier had a length of 17.1 km which had decreased to 14.7 km in 2010. The glacial retreat by 2.4 km is considered alarming. Its highest peak measures 4,274 meters above sea level. The glacier is flanked by some of the most significant mountains in the Alps including Finsteraarhorn, Grünhorn, and Gross Wannenhorn.


The Bernese Alps are home to another of Switzerland’s melting glaciers, the Unteraar. The complete German name of the glacier is Unteraargletscher which translates to Lower Aare-Glacier. The glacier is one of the sources of the Aare River, which is formed from the union of the Lauteraarhorn and the Finsteraarhorn. The Unterrar Glacier had a length of 14.5 km in 1850 which has since decreased to 13.9 km as measured in 2010. Its highest peak is 4,274 meters. The glacier is located in Berne where it occupies an area of 35.5 km2.

Lower Grindelwald

The Lower Grindelwald Glacier is situated in the Bernese Alps in Berne. It has an area of 27.1 km2 and a height of 4,107 meters. The glacier has gradually retreated from a length of 9.9 km in 1850 to 9.4 km in 2010.

The Changing Alpine Climate

The Alpine ecosystem is delicate, and thus changes in the climate have the potential of causing severe effects. All Alpine glaciers have been receding, especially in the last century. The changes in snowfall and rain patterns have increased the chances for extreme environmental events including floods and avalanches as well as landslides, mudslides, and slope instability to occur. It is estimated that at the current retreating rate, most of the Alpine glaciers will have melted away at the end of the century.

The Effect Of Global Warming On Major Glaciers In Switzerland

RankNameRangeArea (km²)1850 length (km)2010 length (km)Height (m)
1AletschBernese Alps117.626.523.64,193
2GornerPennine Alps63.716.014.54,634
3FieschBernese Alps39.017.114.74,273
4UnteraarBernese Alps35.514.513.94,274
5Lower GrindelwaldBernese Alps27.19.99.44107
6CorbassièrePennine Alps23.012.910.44,314
7OberaletschBernese Alps23.010.49.04193
8RhoneUrner Alps20.99.37.93,630
9FindelenPennine Alps20.610.48.54,199
10GauliBernese Alps20.59.26.83,656
11MorteratschBernina Range19.78.98.44049
12TriftUrner Alps19.17.57.03,485
13ZmuttPennine Alps18.98.68.34,478
14ZinalPennine Alps18.89.28.44,357
15OtemmaPennine Alps17.518.708.03,790
16KanderBernese Alps13.929.26.753,661
17HüfiGlarus Alps13.649.26.93,295
18ArollaPennine Alps13.174.803,790
19Mont MinéPennine Alps10.9710.17.93,838
20LangBernese Alps10.098.67.53,892
21BrenayPennine Alps9.965.953,875
22Plaine MorteBernese Alps9.95.203,244
23AllalinPennine Alps9.877.66.04,199
24FerpèclePennine Alps9.779.36.04,357
25Upper GrindelwaldBernese Alps9.527.45.33,750
26FornoBregaglia Alps8.726.153,379
27SaleinaMont Blanc massif8.577.76.33,901
28RosegBernina Range8.524.903,937
29Fee GlacierPennine Alps7.465.04.74,545
30PalüBernina Range6.473.803,901
31TrientMont Blanc massif6.404.903,540
32MomingPennine Alps6.393.604,506
33GriesLepontine Alps6.235.703,374
34TschiervaBernina Range6.204.754,049
35TschingelBernese Alps6.193.653,562
36RosenlauiBernese Alps6.145.153,704
37DammaUrner Alps5.092.353,630
38WildstrubelBernese Alps4.812.653,244
39TsanfleuronBernese Alps3.813.703,123
40AlbignaBregaglia Alps3.533.703,379
41SilvrettaSilvretta Alps3.353.303,244
42BifertenGlarus Alps2.814.403,614
43BasòdinoLepontine Alps2.311.503,272
44La CuderaSilvretta Alps2.072.053,220

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