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Ice sheet - PVC glaciers

May 2006

Why are scientists wrapping glaciers in plastic?

Ice sheet - PVC glaciers

Europe's Alps could lose three-quarters of their glaciers to climate change during the coming century.

That is the conclusion of new research from the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) in Zurich. BBC - 'Major melt' for Alpine glaciers

In an experiment to find a way of reducing melt rate, scientists last year, covered 3,000 square metres of the Gurschen glacier with a half-inch thick PVC coating.

The Swiss glacier has been retreating at an alarming rate in recent decades. It was hoped that the plastic covering will reflect more of the sun’s rays, thereby reducing the rate at which the ice mass melts and recedes.

In nature, thick gravel coatings have the same effect, and scientists were hoping to copy this process.

However, while this may help reduce the rate of ice melting in Switzerland, can anything be done on a larger scale to stop the loss of Antarctic ice?

And if the plan failed, what is the future for Europe’s skiing industry?


This feature will have particular appeal for A-level candidates who are studying climate change, glaciation or tourism (all boards); as well as wilderness environments or the geography of sport & leisure (Edexcel B).

In the Members' Area:

  • What is the Gurschen plan to cover a glacier in plastic?
  • Does it work?
  • Why do glaciers advance and retreat?
  • What is the Antarctic problem?
  • A troubled future for snow sports?
  • Can the UK skiing industry survive climate change?
  • AS and A-level essay assignment titles and exam tips

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