Switzerland Protects the Alps with a Blanket

ENVIRONMENT

In the Swiss Alps, efforts to stop glacial melting have become commonplace. Each year, for example, a group of residents makes its way to the Rhône Glacier to cover up the ice in huge white blankets. (Smithsonian)

Adapt our activity to learn more about how light-colored surfaces have a cooling effect on Earth.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

To ensure the Rhône Glacier survives another melt season, local residents have covered part of the glacier in reflective blankets. The uncovered glacier is blanketed with dusty supraglacial moraine, material that builds up on the surface of a glacier.
Photograph by James Balog, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • How do white blankets help mitigate melting on the Rhône Glacier?
    • Light colors have a high albedo. This means they reflect much more radiation (heat and light) than dark colors. A black object is black because it absorbs all light; it’s not reflecting any color. White objects reflect all color.

 

 

 

 

  • The high-tech solutions listed above are examples of geoengineering, the large-scale manipulation of the earth to change one or more of its systems (here, the water cycle). Are the Rhône Glacier blankets an example of geoengineering?
    • Not really. The reflective fleece blankets are too small-scale to really be considered a geoengineering effort.
    • Unlike the ambitious geoengineering plans and proposals, the Rhône Glacier blankets are a great example of boots-on-the-ground engineering, already at work.

 

The blankets covering part of the Rhône Glacier are inexpensive polyester fleece.
Photograph by James Balog, National Geographic

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Smithsonian: This Swiss Town Is Protecting Its Glacier With a Blanket

AFP: Blankets cover Swiss glacier in vain effort to halt icemelt

Nat Geo: Feedbacks of Ice and Clouds

E&E News: Geoengineering: Can we refreeze the Arctic? Scientists are beginning to ask

Ice911

2 thoughts on “Switzerland Protects the Alps with a Blanket

  1. Good, I’m a Swiss citizen and quite worried about what is happening, not only on our alps but all over the world.
    Should we cover the entire north and south pole with blankets and the frozen islets around our planet? And the animals that live there? Polar bears, seals, and penguins …
    Evidently, this is an impossible undertaking!
    The gesture of the Swiss is demonstrative, it is not a “cure” of evil that lies in human behavior, but rather a humble panacea to show when the situation is serious.
    He talks about it, discusses, controversies that sometimes lead to sensible debates. The solution is ONE and only: decrease the consumption of meat.
    More and more is being discussed, even at the scientific level, and it is proven.
    Man must change his eating habits.
    And this, unfortunately, is just the tip of the iceberg: if we try to save the layers, we must not forget the “plastic islands” in our oceans.
    Thank you for posting always interesting topics!

    Like

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