'Things are getting unstable': global heating and the rise of rockfalls in Swiss Alps

Source(s)
Guardian, the (UK)

By Denise Hruby

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Across Switzerland, reports of rockfalls are piling up. Some have blocked streets, others have destroyed infrastructure. In the most catastrophic events, millions of cubic tons of rock have crumbled off mountains and crushed tourists. Last week in the Italian Alps, authorities closed roads and evacuated residents after warnings that a large part of the Planpincieux glacier was at risk of collapsing.

For the Swiss authorities, these increasingly common rockfalls present a major challenge. As global heating melts the myriad glaciers across the Swiss Alps and thaws its soil, related natural disasters are made more likely. What’s impossible to tell is when – or where – the next catastrophe will occur.

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But Bondo is prepared. An hour’s hike from the village, Giovanoli points to a device that measures the water level. Should it swell to a dangerous level, four sirens will warn residents to evacuate and traffic will be barred from entry. A radar and a seismic station have also been installed.

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Often, smaller rockfalls are the first heralds of looming disasters, says Anton Lüthi, a natural disasters specialist working for the canton of Bern. In the past years, he has worked out emergency plans for at-risk areas. “It’s a matter of being prepared, and knowing what to do when something happens,” he says.

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