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Tourists on the rest of the glacial ice of the Zugspitze

Photo: Peter Kneffel / dpa

The last four glaciers in Germany on the Zugspitze and in the Watzmann area have survived the summer better than feared. For the time being, they retain their status as glaciers. Nevertheless, there is no salvation for them: According to the prognosis of the researchers from the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BAdW), the last formerly "eternal" ice will have disappeared in about 15 years.

According to new measurements by the BAdW scientists, the Watzmann and Blue Ice Glaciers near Berchtesgaden in particular have lost comparatively little area this summer. The ice volume is still being evaluated.

"We are in the process of evaluating the data – and it looks like we didn't have such a bad summer in Berchtesgaden for the glaciers there," said glaciologist Christoph Mayer from the BAdW, according to dpa. The academy prepares a glacier report for the state government every few years. "At the end of the season, we still had snow on the glaciers in Berchtesgaden, at least some of it." Snow reflects sunlight and thus protects the ice. The cold spring with late snowfall probably also contributed to the slowing of melting.

Things look worse this year on Germany's highest mountain, the Zugspitze. "The areas on the Höllentalferner and the Northern Schneeferner have become significantly smaller," said Mayer. Above all, the Northern Schneeferner has suffered. While the Höllentalferner as well as the Berchtesgaden glaciers are rather shady, it is strongly exposed to the sun.

Last year, the experts revoked the status of the Southern Schneeferner glacier as the fifth German glacier to date. At around one and a half hectares – the equivalent of about two football pitches – it was still half the size of four years earlier. And it no longer flows. But the flow is a criterion for classification as a glacier.

Cold snaps can put a protective blanket of snow on the ice for a few days, even in summer, but this happens less and less often. Rain above 0 degrees, high humidity and long periods of sunshine accelerate the melting of glaciers.