Glaciers are routinely monitored and surveyed by the staff of the Gran Paradiso National Park. The results of the most recent survey are extremely worrying. The exceptionally warm summer of 2015, among the warmest of the last two decades, has contributed to significant retreata of all the glaciers in the park.
Surveys have been conducted both by Park Wardens and by members of the Italian Glaciological Committee. The results show severe ice shrinkage, leading to either rapid retreat or even the complete disappearance of smaller glaciers, within the boundaries of the Park. Furthermore, larger glaciers show signs of splitting apart resulting in major transformation of the mountain landscapes.
Frontal retreats have in some cases been exceptional. The largest recorded has been the Money Glacier in the Cogne Valley which has receded by 54 m and thinned substantially. Residual snow, the snow cover remaining at the end of the melt season, was thin and in some cases entirely absent, cutting off the supplies necessary to maintain the very existence of the glacier itself.
The case of the Grand Étret glacier at the head of the Valsavarenche is significant: the mass balance, the indicator that most clearly expresses the health of a glacier, is strongly negative with a loss equivalent to 2 meters of ice along its entire length. Between 1999 and today the glacier has lost a thickness equivalent of 16 m.
It is important to underline the low environmental impact of these studies. Surveys and measurements by Park Wardens are conducted entirely on foot with almost no carbon footprint. Helicopters are never used; survey points are reached using only skis and crampons.
The director of the Park, Michele Ottino comments that “For years we have observed the glaciers in the park and noted the progressive retreat in the face of steady changes in climate. These activities are important for monitoring climate changes, to understand their origin, and are only possible thanks to the dedicated field work and data analysis by our park wardens."