Consequences of climate change in the Alps now visible from space: Research

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Melting glaciers have become a symbol of climate change, and now the impact of global warming in the Alps is so pronounced it is now visible from space, researchers have found in a damning new report.

Researchers from the University of Lausanne and the University of Basel used satellite data to show that, just like the Arctic, the snowy Alpine mountain range is turning green.

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Snow cover is also decreasing, but only slightly so far.

Working with colleagues in the Netherlands and Finland, the researchers investigated the change in snow cover and vegetation using high-resolution satellite data from 1984 to 2021. Over this period, plant biomass above the tree line increased in more than 77 percent of the observed area.

This phenomenon of “greening” due to climate change is already well documented in the Arctic.

In the Alps, the team explains that the area is becoming greener because plants are colonizing new grounds and is generally becoming denser and taller.

“The scale of the change has turned out to be absolutely massive in the Alps,” says Sabine Rumpf, lead author of the study and, since February, assistant professor at the University of Basel. The Alps are becoming greener because plants are colonizing new areas and the vegetation is generally becoming denser and taller.

Previous studies have mainly focused on the impact of global warming on the region’s biodiversity and changes in local plant species. However, no one had conducted such a comprehensive study on the changes in vegetation productivity in the Alps.

The new study, published in the journal Science, shows that the increase in vegetation in the mountains is largely due to changes in rain levels and rising temperatures.

“Alpine plants are adapted to harsh conditions, but they’re not very competitive,” says Rumpf.

As the environment changes, researchers say these specialized species are losing their advantage and other plants are overtaking them.

“The unique biodiversity of the Alps is therefore under considerable pressure,” Rumpf adds.

The research team warns that as global warming continues, the Alps will continue to shift from snow-covered to green and bushy, creating a vicious circle.

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