>What I’ve Been Saying (Plus Some More)

>Business Week has published an article from Spiegel Online on the Environmental Perils Of Artificial Snow manufactured for the Alpine ski slopes.

‘Increasing numbers of ski resorts in the Alps have installed snow cannons so that the euros keep rolling in during snow-poor winters. In Austria, artificial snow is already used on 50 percent of slopes, says Christian Rixen of the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos, Switzerland. In southern Tyrol, the figure is even higher, at 59 percent, while in the Alps as a whole it’s 30 percent.

Artificial snow and its consequences is one of the many climate change-related topics that scientists are currently discussing at the European Geosciences Union annual conference this week in Vienna. Researchers have been aware of the problem for some time. A year and a half ago, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a study on the consequences of global warming on the Alps. The worrying conclusion was that, in a worst-case scenario, two-thirds of all ski areas would be threatened.

Bavarian areas could be hit the hardest: Even a rise in temperature of just 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) would mean that 87 percent of slopes would no longer be classified as “snow reliable.” The OECD defines snow-reliable areas as those that have around 30 centimeters (12 inches) of snow cover on at least 100 days in the year. In the Alps there are currently around 600 such areas. But an average temperature increase of just 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) could reduce that number to 500, the OECD warns. Every 1-degree Celsius increase after that would spell doom for a further 100 ski resorts.

“Everything under 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) is hit first,” says hydrologist Carmen de Jong of the University of Savoy in France. Then areas above 1,200 meters start getting problems, she explains. Winter sport resorts don’t have many options for coping with climate change. “The entire infrastructure, for example the lifts, would have to be rebuilt higher up the mountain—and that’s extremely expensive,” de Jong says.

At lower altitudes, the only hope is snow cannons, which in some areas run non-stop as soon as the temperature hits minus 3 degrees Celsius (27 degrees Fahrenheit). To avoid running out of snow, they pump out as much of the white stuff as possible.


But the effects of the massive artificial snow output are worrying scientists. “Artificial snow melts two to three weeks later (than normal snow),” says Christian Rixen of the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research. Adding to the worry is the fact that artificial snow melt contains more minerals and nutrients than regular melt water. One consequence of the different composition is an alteration of the natural ground covering, as plants with higher nutritional requirements suddenly begin to dominate.

The use of artificial snow also interferes with the millennia-old Alpine water table. Water for snow production has to be collected in manmade reservoirs over the course of the entire year. A considerable amount of that water evaporates over time or when the artificial snow is produced—and is therefore lost. Moreover, manmade reservoirs created in the mountains change the underground water table, as their bottoms are watertight and do not allow water to seep back into the ground. Not only this, but because artificial snow takes longer to melt, the flow of water into the valleys is postponed.’

The appearance of the slopes will also affect tourism, as ‘(t)he only snow in some areas would be white strips of piste running down from the top of an otherwise green mountain to the ski lift base station at the bottom.’

You mean, like this?

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