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Appearance of explosive WWI relics underscores Alps glaciers' retreat

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The discovery was one of the more unusual manifestations of a phenomenon that has governments, economists, and environmentalists deeply worried.

Mountaineers and hikers are also seeing more avalanches and rock falls as the morphology of the Alps changes.

When a large iron cross tumbled from its pedestal on the summit of the Dolomites’ highest peak earlier this month, its collapse was blamed on its rock base fracturing as a result of melting permafrost.

Four days later, mountain climbers in Austria removed a similar cross from the 11,800-foot-high Grossvenediger peak because they feared it, too, had become dangerously unstable.

A worsening trend

More than half of the ice-covered area of the Alps has disappeared since 1850, the end of a cold spell known as the Little Ice Age. 

In the past 120 years, the Alps have undergone an “exceptionally high temperature increase of around two degrees centigrade,” according to the European Topic Center on Air and Climate Change, a consortium of European environmental institutes.

But even over the past few decades, there are clear changes to the Alps.

There will be serious implications for tourism activities such as skiing, as well as agriculture, industry, and human habitation.

Glaciers currently release their meltwater during the summer, when it is most needed. That crucial supply will be drastically reduced as the ice masses disappear, affecting farming as well as industrial activity.

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