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Fri May 20, 2016, 05:27 PM

As European glaciers dwindle, dams could replace them

http://www.wsl.ch/medien/news/staudaemme_gletscher/index_EN
[font face=Serif] Birmensdorf, 20.05.2016

[font size=5]As European glaciers dwindle, dams could replace them[/font]

[font size=4] Water management in reservoirs could substantially mitigate future summer water shortages, expected as a consequence of ongoing glacier retreat. This is the result of a study published in Environmental Research Letters and led by the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL. The team simulated the effect of climatic change on glaciers across the European Alps and estimated that two thirds of the effect on seasonal water availability could be avoided when storing water in areas becoming ice free.[/font]

[font size=3] Environments with snow and glaciers play a vital role in terms of water availability. With warmer temperatures, snow covered areas will reduced in size and duration, whilst glaciers are expected to retreat substantially. This is anticipated to significantly affect the seasonality of runoff, and to result in a reduction of the water yields from high-mountain areas.

A new study jointly led by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Ispra, Italy, and the Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology (VAW) at ETH Zurich, presents for the first time an estimate for the potential of mitigation by managing water through reservoirs. The basic idea is to transfer the additional water expected to be available during spring because of an earlier onset of the melting season, to the summer months. This could compensate for the reduction in water yields expected as a result of glacier shrinkage.

By using the latest climate projections and a numerical glacier model developed recently, the authors estimate that for the European Alps, up to two thirds of the expected changes could potentially be mitigated by the end of the century. This would require a temporary storage of about 1 km³ of water – that is a water cube with edges 1 km long.

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